Falcons win girls tennis opener

WOODSTOCK — Central’s season opener couldn’t have gone much better on Monday.

The Falcons swept all six singles matches en route to an 8-1 girls tennis non-district victory over Shenandoah County rival Stonewall Jackson.

“It’s a great way to start off the regular season,” Central senior Nicole Baker said. “… Everyone gets together really well. It’s an individual sport but at the same time everybody has to pull their part to win as a team. It’s nice to see it come together at the end. We have so many new young girls winning their matches, and it’s fun to see.”

Stonewall Jackson was playing without its top player Elizabeth Moomaw, who was out of town, so everyone had to move up a spot in the singles lineup.

Central junior Egyptia Azilinon won at No. 1 singles, 8-0, over Stonewall Jackson’s Katherine Good.

Azilinon said she was trying to work on being a little more patient with her game.

“I usually take killer shots all the time,” Azilinon said. “My coach told me I should play a little bit like two, three shots and then take my killer shots. So I worked on that today, and so it really worked out really nicely.”

Azilinon played at No. 2 singles last year, and said she’s looking forward to playing at No. 1 this season.

“It’s really stressful, because (No.) 2 and (No.) 1 might sound really close but it’s not. It really isn’t. It’s not the same thing,” she said. “I’m really stressed, but I know that if I give it my all I can get through that. … I’m excited to play against people that are really good, because this is when you actually learn.”

Central’s Sarah Grace Schechtel defeated Stonewall Jackson’s Kelsey Davis, 8-2, at No. 5 singles, and Baker beat Lacey Kagey, 8-0, at No. 2 singles to give the Falcons a 3-0 lead.

“Today my opponent she was really testing me with hitting some deep shots back on the line,” Baker said. “So it was good for me to help kind of get my bearings on the court, to know where I’m at and my whereabouts. Then I tried to mix things up like hit some short, some deep. So my shots aren’t super consistent or easy to read, and that worked pretty well for me.”

The Falcons stretched the lead to 5-0 with wins by Brooklyn Pumphrey at No. 3 singles (8-2) and Adriana Sorto-Rojas at No. 6 singles (8-3).

Central freshman Lander Barbour capped it off with a win at No. 4 singles, after believing she had lost. Barbour trailed Stonewall Jackson’s Emily Ball, 7-5, and the pair thought they were only supposed to play to seven, like a regular pro-set instead of an 8-game pro set. They both left the court before having to back out and finish the match. Barbour rallied and won 9-8 winning in the tiebreaker, 7-3.

Stonewall Jackson coach Bill Simmons said he was very happy with how Ball, who played softball the last two seasons, played in her first match.

“She basically picked up a tennis racket for the first time in a long time a couple weeks ago,” Simmons said. “I think her and the girl got into a little confusion over the scoring, so she thought she had won and then she had to go back out there. I think that unnerved her a little bit. It gives us promise and hope for the future because that’s going to be about where she plays this season. When we get Elizabeth (Moomaw) back she’ll probably play No. 1 doubles with Elizabeth. I think that (Ball) showed that she can definitely hang with better tennis players. I’m very pleased with how much she’s grown in such a short amount of time.”

The Falcons won two of the three doubles matches. Azilinon and Baker beat Good and Sarah Miller at No. 1 doubles, 8-1. Central’s Pumphrey and Meredith Phillips defeated Stonewall Jackson’s Ball and Davis, 8-4, at No. 2 doubles. Stonewall Jackson’s Kagey and Emmy Pilkerton beat Central’s Schechtel and Anna Truban, 8-4, at No. 3 doubles.

The Generals have a young squad with only one senior and five freshman. Simmons, in his first year as coach, said it was good for his team to just play a match and gain some experience.

“We just wanted to get out here and see if we could be competitive, and I think we did that today,” Simmons said. “I’m really proud of all the girls and how hard they played.”

Central coach Rob Arner is also in his first year as coach. Arner has been a teaching pro in the area, for a number of years. The Falcons also have a young squad. They have six seniors but also have four freshman and an eighth grader.

“The team overall is growing and it’s going to go through growth spurts,” Arner said. “You have good days and bad. The key for them is there is a really good sense of unity and trying to make it fun.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com