By Tommy Keeler Jr.
WOODSTOCK -- Luke Robinson had his eye on coaching tennis for a number of years. The Central graduate had thought about coaching at his alma mater, and this past offseason everything finally fell into place for him.
Robinson took the boys tennis job, and then took Central back to the regional tournament for the first time in a number of years.
"Obviously, if I was going to coach at any high school I would want it to be the team that I played for," Robinson said.
Robinson played at Central for four years, and was part of a team that went to the Group A state semifinals in 1998.
He might not have taken the job if it weren't for the addition of light to the tennis courts where Central plays. Robinson said that Central athletic director Kenny Rinker told him that he could hold practices whenever he wanted.
The flexibility allowed Robinson to finally be able to take the job he had wanted for years.
"I was excited, because I had wanted to do it forever," Robinson said. "I wanted to do it back when [Luke's brother] Jordan coached the girls team. I thought about it then. It was just the schedule thing."
Robinson knew once he took the job it wasn't going to be easy this season. The Falcons lost three of their top four, and four starters overall from last season.
Robinson was able to take the team to unexpected heights, just part of what makes him The Northern Virginia Daily's 2014 Boys Tennis Coach of the Year.
Robinson said he came up with an idea on how to help all of the players on the team, which he said was difficult since he didn't have any assistants.
"I would try every day and take one person and spend most of practice with them, and I feel like as a team that's how each individual got better," Robinson said. "And then sometimes my brother, Jordan, would stop by and he would take one person, and sometimes even after practice we would both stay for a while and work with just one person or two. I felt like that was the key to making the whole team better."
The progress may not have shown so much in the early part of the season, but there's no question it did by the end.
The Falcons lost in the regular season, 7-2, to John Champe. The two teams met again in the Conference 28 semifinals and the Falcons won 5-4 to advance to regionals.
"When we played the first time I was like we potentially could beat them, but it was a long shot," Robinson said. "But then to actually beat them to go on was huge. I knew then, not that we had arrived, but I felt redeemed. I felt that the season was a success from a coaching standpoint in that these guys have actually learned, look where they've gotten. Look what they understand about the game now as opposed to last year."
Robinson said another key to any team can be the pep talks. At times this season, Robinson used basketball analogies with some of his players, anything to help motivate them during a match.
He said it took some time to get to know the players, and understand how to relate to them to help motivate them.
"In high school and then the two years I played in college, I had tremendous coaches that, when you're out in the hot sun, or you might have a day where you're exhausted for whatever reason, the pep talk is sometimes what wins the match," Robinson said. "I feel like that's key to rallying them through the match, because a lot of them hadn't played before. They had never been in a situation where I have to rise above my tiredness, rise above whatever it may be and just get through this to win. Whatever it might be at the time to say the right thing is crucial."
The Falcons advanced to the regional quarterfinals before falling to a very talented James Monroe squad.
Central didn't have any seniors in the top six this season, and the Falcons should be even better next season.
Robinson said he wants to keep developing the program, which won a state title in 1999, and he wants to keep it going strong.
"I talk to these guys all the time about the history, just to restore it and keep the history going," Robinson said. "That's part of the reason I said I wanted to coach, because I would hate to see it die out where I played. That's a big thing. I'll stay as long as they want me to, just to make sure people keep playing."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd