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Winning ways: Falcons soaring to start season

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Central’s Molly Barb returns a shot against Stonewall’s Margaret Moomaw during their match on March 22 in Woodstock. Barb has guided the Falcons to an 8-3 start this season. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Tommy Keeler Jr. - tkeeler@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- Central senior Molly Barb has seen a lot of changes in her four seasons with Central's girls tennis team. The team has had three different coaches in the last three years and they've played in three different districts in her four years on the team. But perhaps the best change has been they've went from a team that didn't win many matches to one that does.

"I think for having such a young team, we're doing really good this year," Barb said. "We're doing really well, and I'm really proud of us."

The Falcons are currently 7-3, including 1-0 in the Bull Run District. They are tied with George Mason for first place in the district and they host the Mustangs today at 5 p.m.

Central hasn't won a district title in girls tennis in more than 10 years, and the program struggled for a while. Four years ago, the Falcons finished last in the Northwestern District. The last two years, the Falcons have finished in the top three in the Shenandoah District.

This year they're looking to take the next step in the three-team Bull Run District.

Central has three seniors and three sophomores in the top six in singles. Barb, who plans to play for Shenandoah University next year, is having another strong season at No. 1. Sophomore Katelyn Foltz has moved up from No. 6 last year to No. 2 this year.

"I've definitely had to adjust to playing better players," Foltz said. "There's been a learning curve there."

Foltz said she took lessons at Stonebrook Racquet and Fitness Club, and at a club in Harrisonburg in the offseason.

Senior Casey George plays at No. 3, while sophomores Rebecca Truban and Jackie Walsh have played at No. 4 and 5 this season. Senior Hannah Huddle has earned the No. 6 singles spot for the team this year. The fourth senior on the team, Olivia Helsley, has also played in doubles for the Falcons, as have junior Allison Bright and sophomore Natalie Batlle.

Truban played mostly at doubles last year, and said it was a real adjustment for her playing at No. 4 this season.

"It was a big change, playing against people that were a lot better than last year," Truban said. "I think I'm getting used to it."

Many of the players have worked hard in the offseason, including taking lessons at local clubs, and it has paid off.

The Falcons have also had strong doubles play this season. Central has pulled out several close matches this season in doubles.

Central coach Mallory Skarupa, who is also an assistant coach for the girls basketball team, said the players have good chemistry and that's been part of their success.

"They really get along well," Skarupa said. "They're friends on and off the court. They have a lot of fun together, and that makes it more enjoyable to be their coach."

Two years ago Jordan Robinson coached the team and last year his wife, Mandi, took the reins. Jordan Robinson is now the head coach at Ferrum College, which left Central scrambling for a replacement this season.

Skarupa said she played some in high school, and is glad she took the position. Even though the players have had a lot of coaches over the last few years, they're happy with how things have worked out.

"I think in some ways it's good to have different coaches," Barb said. "Each one gives you a different perspective on how to play."

Skarupa said other coaches in the area, including Central boys coach Andrew Wetzel, have been invaluable to her in her first year as coach.

One thing Skarupa has tried to bring to the team has been energy. She said she has a cowbell, which the team rings before each match to try to get fired up.

So far everything has been working right for the Falcons this year. Central's only losses have been to a solid Group AA Warren County squad, and to defending Group A state champion East Rockingham.

The big test in the district will come today against George Mason. The Mustangs (4-5) have been dominant in the district for a long time, but have a young squad this season, with only one senior.

"We really don't know what to expect," George said. "I've heard people say that they're not as good as they're made out to be. We're just going to try to be positive, and try to do our best."

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