WOODSTOCK — Lander Barbour has seen both sides of Central’s girls tennis program.
In her first two seasons, the team struggled to win matches. Last year, the Falcons came up just short of a state berth and this week they will try again for a Class 2 state berth.
“It’s really nice. I’m glad I got to experience both (the ups and downs),” Barbour said. “Because freshman and sophomore years were more like fun. We knew we weren’t going anywhere, but this year and last year it’s just nice to see the dedication and just good tennis.”
Barbour, a senior, has also experienced different sides of Central’s lineup. As a freshman, she played at No. 4 singles. Her sophomore year, with the team losing players to graduation, she found herself playing at the No. 1 spot.
“It was really hard mentally because I was playing a lot of really good players,” Barbour said. “So that was a tough year and tough to get much out of that and just really find myself in tennis. But ever since then, I’ve loved it.”
Central coach Matt Smith said he was impressed with how Barbour handled the pressure of playing at No. 1 her sophomore season and led a young squad.
Last year Barbour dropped back to the No. 4 spot again and this season she is playing at No. 3. Barbour said the experience she gained her first two years has helped her a lot these last two seasons.
“I’ve learned a lot playing other players and a lot about myself playing tennis and how I can mentally get stronger,” Barbour said.
The last two years she’s flipped-flopped back and forth in the singles lineup with junior Mackenzie Ryman, who is also her partner at No. 2 doubles. Barbour said they make each other better.
“I think that’s why me and Mack (Ryman) are doing pretty good in doubles, because we are basically the same level and we just push each other,” Barbour said.
Tennis has been a sport in Barbour’s family for quite a few years. Her older sister, Claire, played for Central as did her older brother, Sam.
Sam Barbour won the Bull Run District individual singles title in his junior season at Central and had a strong career with the boys team.
“He’s been a really big influence, because I got to see him and how well he did,” Lander Barbour said. “So it’s always been like a competitive thing. I always want to kind of top him — but he’s really good.”
Lander Barbour also ran cross country for the Falcons the last four years. She said that cross country has helped with her tennis game.
“I think it’s helped my mental game because cross country is a lot of just pushing yourself through it and trying to finish,” Lander Barbour said. “I think that’s helped with it — and my strength.”
Lander Barbour said that she prefers her backhand over her forehand since she can get more power on that shot. Lander Barbour said she watches pros on television some and enjoys watching Serena Wiliams play and trying to learn from what she sees on TV.
This season the Falcons are 13-2 and have already clinched a Region 2B berth for the second straight season. The Falcons will play Thursday, against an opponent to be determined, in the Region 2B semifinals for a berth in the Class 2 state tournament. It would be the program’s first state berth since 1999. Central plays at rival George Mason today in the Bull Run District final.
Smith said that Barbour has been a great leader for the team this season.
“She’s been a leader of the team just through her personality,” Smith said. “She’s just a fun, happy kid. Her and (senior) Anna Truban and all these seniors have just been great role models for the younger students. They just enjoy it. They work hard and they have fun. They’ve been welcoming of the underclassmen — the freshmen. So I think the team will be maybe a little bit quieter next year. They bring a lot of enthusiasm, which I love.”
Lander Barbour said she’s trying not to think about the fact that her tennis career is winding down. She said that she wants the team to give everything it has and see how far they can go this season.
“I’m really excited that we’re doing really good,” Lander Barbour said. “I think it’s a good young group and I think we can go really far and get to states. There’s definitely a lot of really good competition. So it’s going to be difficult. But I think we can do it if we just all keep a good mindset and just stick with it.”