By Dennis Atwood - email@example.com
WOODSTOCK -- Central Falcons senior Molly Barb achieved a convincing 6-2, 6-1 victory at No. 1 singles against Wilson Memorial senior Charlotte Harnad, but it was Central's only victory of the day as the Green Dragons won the Region B girls team tennis tournament semifinals contest, 5-1, Friday afternoon at Woodstock's W. O. Riley park.
Regional event rules stipulate that the first team to achieve five match victories wins the event, so there was no doubles play.
The 86-degree heat, with humidity above 50 percent, presented a challenge with longer matches due to the multiple-sets scoring format.
Barb displayed excellent control of her service game in the first set, hitting in 17 first serves with three service winners and only two double faults, and jumped out to a 5-0 lead.
Harnad fought back to take sets six and seven before Barb regained form, with two service winners, including the set winner at 40-0.
Harnad didn't fare as well at the service line in the first set, needing 16 second serves, but also getting three service winners and making only one double fault.
The second set evolved as an echo of set one, as Barb again went up 5-0, then lost game six on serve, committing a double fault for game point.
Down four games, Harnad led off with a double fault, and then for the fourth time in the match stroked a drop shot volley winner to make it 15-15.
Barb then stroked a cross-court winner and Harnad made two unforced errors, making Barb the set (6-1) and match winner.
The players reached deuce three times, with Barb winning two of them.
Distinctive aspects of the match included Barb hitting a rare "court-crack ace" to start game two. There are court surface cracks, arcing equally on each side of the nets on courts one and six, and Barb's ace bounced at an odd angle, but is considered good under Central's home court ground rules.
Barb also benefited from three volley winners that clipped the net cord and landed on the far side.
Harnad employed a top-notch drop volley stroke to hit four winners using the technique.
Barb hit 23 first serves in to 13 for Harnad. Barb hit six service winners (including the set point in set one) and made nine double-faults (seven in the second set) to four service winners and five double faults by Harnad.
"I was definitely feeling my serve [early]," Barb said. "Lately, my serves haven't been on as I was working up to regionals, but now it's definitely catching up to me and it's working.
"[Harnad's] drop shots were really good and she could definitely hit it deep into the corners, and that was really hard to get. She's a good player."
"[Barb] was really a lot more consistent than me," Harnad said. "She hit a good ball, had good pace on it and she placed it really well. Even her second serves had a lot of power and pace behind them.
"When I played tennis with my dad and my brother, I was trying to figure out how to make drop shots. I've had [the shot] with me all this season, and a little bit of last [season]."
Central's Katelyn Foltz fell to Amelia Herring, 6-0, 6-0 at No. 2; at No. 3, Heather Shields defeated Casey George, 6-0, 6-1; at No. 4. Delaney Rhodus topped Rebecca Truban, 6-2, 6-1; and freshman Cassie Stark bested Jackie Walsh, 6-2, 6-2, at No. 5.
At No. 6, senior Hannah Huddle battled Green Hornets freshman Sarah Barnard for one hour and 22 minutes, before succumbing, 6-3, 6-4, with match game won at deuce.
"This was my longest match of the year because it was the first one with sets," Huddle said. "I used to do cross-country and play trombone in the marching band, and both of them built up my stamina, with lots of aerobics."
"[Huddle] definitely had the endurance she needed," first-year Central coach Mallory Skarupa said. "At the change-over, I told her, 'If there's one person on our team that's stubborn and determined, it's you, so let's go,' and she really hung tough for us."
The Falcons finished the year 11-4 overall and it was Central's first advancement to girls tennis regional play in more than a decade.
"[The match] didn't really come together for us," Skarupa said. "The heat was a factor, and some of us just didn't want it as much as some of their players. Wilson's a very good team. They're a perennial tennis powerhouse. I give them all the credit in the world.
'It's been a great year. I definitely think we've earned a little more respect in some peoples' minds and maybe they'll rethink us next year."
Barb advanced to the Group A state individual singles tournament, June 7 at Radford University, by defeating East Rockingham's Stacie Bailey, 6-3, 6-2 in the Region B final on Tuesday. Barb is the first state individual girls singles qualifier for Central since 1999, when Emily French advanced to the state final.
Barb and Foltz will play Goochland's Mackenzie Nunnally and Brett Alvis in the Region B doubles semifinals on May 29 at Wilson Memorial.