By Tommy Keeler Jr.
FRONT ROYAL -- Going into the season, Skyline senior Presley Rutherford was hoping to finally move up to the top spot for the Hawks. She had spent the past two seasons at No. 2, and she worked hard in the off-season to try to make her senior year the best one.
All of Rutherford's hard work paid off in a big way. Not only did Rutherford move to the top spot, but she also had a strong record and advanced to regionals individually for the first time.
"I felt like I did really well," Rutherford said. "[My first goal] was to try to get that No. 1 spot, and then after that it's trying to win every match I could."
Early in the season, she challenged teammate and fellow senior Julie Hoverter for the top spot and won the match. She didn't relinquish the spot the rest of the way.
Working hard to get better is nothing new for Rutherford, the Northern Virginia Daily's 2013 Girls Tennis Player of the Year. Rutherford said she didn't start playing tennis regularly until her eighth grade year when she joined the team.
As a freshman she was No. 7 on the team, and only played in the top six when somebody in the top six couldn't play.
After that season, she was determined to get better. Skyline coach John Natalie said he played a match with her at the end of her freshman season where he continually exposed her weak backhand.
"She understood what I was doing," Natalie said. "She didn't look at it like I was trying to be a jerk. I think she understood what I was doing, that I was saying, 'Hey, next year you're going to have people that are going to spot this. They're going to spot it probably the first game of the first set that you're playing against them. And if you don't have an answer for it, they're going to exploit that against you.'
"So she came back the next year with a backhand, and it's gotten better every year since."
Not only did she improve her backhand, but she improved all of her game and moved all the way up to the No. 2 spot on the team.
"That was a lot of hard work in the offseason," Rutherford said. "It was very hard to get there. I was not expecting to do that, either."
Natalie said that she showed so much improvement that he actually created an award called the OMG award and gave it to her after her sophomore year. It's now the award that goes to the most improved player on the team each season.
This season Rutherford secured the No. 2 seed in the Northwestern District tournament, and then held up her seeding in the tournament. She advanced to the Region II individual singles tournament, where she lost in the quarterfinals to the eventual regional champion.
Natalie said one of the things that makes Rutherford special is that she never gives up on the court.
"She doesn't let the fact that she's down, 1-0, 2-0, 5-0, whatever the score is, she still plays the point like she has every chance in the world to win," Natalie said. "Because she knows that in theory it's not over until someone gets that last point, and who knows what might happen. You have to like that in somebody who is a competitor. And that's true of a lot of my players this year, but it's definitely true of Presley. She competes all the way to the end no matter what."
Rutherford also helped lead the Hawks to an 11-7 record and an appearance in the Region II quarterfinals.
Rutherford is one of seven seniors on the team, and they are the top seven in the lineup.
"I feel like our team has done great," Rutherford said. "This is the third year we've made it to regionals as a team. This group of girls, we've all been together since eighth grade. We all started the same year, so we're all very close and it's amazing to share that with them."
Rutherford will be going to the University of Kentucky next year, and said she hopes to play at the club or intramural level.
She said that tennis is a sport she hopes to continue playing for many years.
"It's one of those sports that you could play forever," Rutherford said. "I see people that are still playing at 80, and they're still really good. I hope to be playing like that. It's fun and all you need is one other person to play."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org