By Tommy Keeler Jr.
WOODSTOCK -- Last year Central was able to knock Group A perennial power George Mason from it's lofty perch, capturing the Bull Run District girls tennis title. On Thursday, the Mustangs showed they are still a real force to be reckoned with.
With a very young, but strong squad, George Mason thumped Central, 9-0, at W.O. Riley Park.
Despite the talent the Mustangs had, the Falcons showed a lot of fight and were competitive in several matches.
"I was proud of our girls -- they hung tough," Central coach Mallory Skarupa said. "No one gave up. We stayed aggressive. We stayed in it. We showed a lot of determination and spirit.
"It was definitely a good measuring stick as to where we are. We know we're not the best, but we're getting there and we have a ton of potential."
The Mustangs (6-0, 1-0 Bull Run) were led by Mariam Salakaia, a freshman originally from the country of Georgia. George Mason coach Chrisline Baldo said Salakaia's family moved to Falls Church in the last few years.
Salakaia's powerful serve and groundstrokes were too much for Central's Katelyn Foltz in a 10-1 win at No. 1 singles.
"She's definitely the best player I've ever played," Foltz said. "You just have to have a lot of respect for her. There's not a lot that you can do.
"She's very consistent. Her serve is really good. She's very powerful. She can place the ball extremely well."
The Falcons (2-4, 0-1 Bull Run) hung tough at No. 2 and 3 singles for a while. Central junior Rebecca Truban trailed 3-2 early in her match with George Mason sophomore Kynadi Mauney and the match was on serve. However, Mauney was able to pull away down the stretch for a 10-3 win.
"My opponent was very tough, but I tried to hang in there," Truban said. "I just got really frustrated with myself and made some dumb errors. She had a really good forehand and she had a very good serve. They were very hard to return. And she hustled very well."
At No. 3, Central junior Jackie Walsh lost 10-3 to George Mason freshman Carrington Mauney, but the match was on serve with Walsh trailing 4-3 early on.
It was Walsh's first loss of the year.
"Jackie [Walsh] and Pipi [Truban] have actually been very strong all year," Skarupa said. "They kept it close. Both of those girls were really strong. I think they were kind of intimated just watching them warm up. They stayed in it and hung tough."
Central's Alissandra Rodriguez was out of town, so senior Allison Bright filled in at the No. 4 singles spot. Bright put up a fight against George Mason's Peggy Brozi. Bright lost 10-2, but it was the last singles match to be completed. At No. 5 singles, Dana Sembra defeated Central's Emma Lineberry, 10-1. Central's Natalie Batlle had an early 2-1 lead, but eventually fell, 10-2, to George Mason's Lauren Meinhart at No. 6 singles.
The closest match in doubles came at No. 2. Central's Walsh and Bright put up a fight against Salakaia and Brozi. The two teams traded breaks throughout much of the early part of the match, but tied at 5-5 the Mustangs won the last five games.
"I think we played pretty well," Walsh said. "It just came down to serves and topspin."
George Mason is now 6-0, and Baldo said she was happy with how they played against the Falcons.
"The girls did an amazing job," Baldo said. "I think they came out here pretty strong, and they were all hyped up to play."
The Falcons also have a young squad with no seniors in the regular starting lineup. Despite the loss, the Falcons were upbeat about the team this season.
"I think that whenever you're playing somebody better, you're making yourself better," Truban said. "And it's good to challenge yourself. I think we're doing very well. We can achieve a lot if we really try."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org