By Tommy Keeler Jr.
WOODSTOCK -- Two years ago, Sam Barbour decided to give tennis a shot, at the urging of his best friend, Bobby Loveland. In just a short period of time, Barbour's game has grown by leaps and bounds and the sport has come naturally to him.
During this season the Central junior began to watch the game on TV, and began to understand the strategy, and with it took his game to new heights.
"He said watching it was one of the best things I could have ever done, because I'm starting to understand the game," Central coach Luke Robinson said. "That was key for him, because once he started to understand the game then the rest of his game came with it -- his footwork, his groundstrokes. That's what got him to where he won the conference and got him to regionals."
Barbour won the Conference 28 individual singles title, and advanced to regionals and helped him earn The Northern Virginia Daily's 2014 Boys Tennis Player of the Year.
Last year when he first started to play, Barbour played at No. 5 singles for the Falcons. Barbour also plays football and basketball at Central, and said he didn't play any in the offseason until he and Loveland went to the Winchester Country Club just a few weeks before the tennis season started.
Barbour said it was like he hadn't stopped playing, his game was even better than last year. Loveland, who played at No. 1 last year for the Falcons, also noticed how well Barbour was playing.
"We hit a little bit, and I was watching him hit and I was like 'God, Sam's gotten a lot better,'" Loveland said. "I was like, 'Oh crap, I don't think I'm going to bring him to Winchester Country Club anymore.'"
Loveland started the year at No. 1, but as Barbour's game kept improving he overtook the top spot from his best friend. Barbour won a challenge match for the top spot that he said was the most interesting match of the season.
The two best friends, who both said they fight just like brothers, handled the situation well and knew that in the end it made the whole team better.
"We have a very competitive relationship," Barbour said. "Being best friends and coming into this season, obviously, I wanted the best for him, but then you have to take into consideration our competitive relationship. Whoever it was, whether it was him at one or me at one, it made our top two very competitive, and we always just wanted to strive to win.
"Bobby's definitely been happy for me and my success."
Barbour said Robinson helped him a lot with improving his backhand and his serve.
Playing at No. 1, Barbour knew he couldn't match the other top players with powerful groundstrokes, so he used his touch shots and mixed up his game to keep the other players off balance.
It worked perfectly, as Barbour beat John Champe's Viktor Ding to win the Conference 28 title.
"Playing somebody who has played tennis for a while and is a good player, somebody who has a consistent stroke and hits the ball hard, you can't hit the ball just as hard back, because eventually if they're the better player they're going to be able to win the point," Barbour said. "So, what you got to do is to mix it up. Just playing with people that are better than you, you learn you have to mix it up. That's what worked for me this year. I used that to my advantage."
Even though he lost in the regional individual singles, Barbour said that this season was a great learning experience for him, and he hopes to get even better next year.
"I was happy with how I did this season," Barbour said. "Regionals was fun, just knowing that I made it there. I'll never forget it."
The team success was a little like Barbour's individual success. Going into the season not much was expected of a young squad without a lot of experience.
After losing to John Champe, 7-2, in the regular season, the Falcons won 5-4 in the Conference 28 semifinals to earn a regional berth.
"It was definitely a rebuilding year," Barbour said. "Every success we had this year was just icing on the cake."
The Falcons didn't have any seniors in the top six, so they should only get better. Likewise, Barbour's game still has plenty of upside and he wants to keep improving.
"I always want to get better," Barbour said. "It's a fun sport. It's a sport that's just come naturally to me. Hopefully, I'll play more in the offseason and just keep getting better."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd