Central girls tennis preview

Central's Lander Barbour comes to the net with a backhand shot against Clarke County's Barbara Fairbanks during the Bull Run District semifinals last season at W.O. Riley Park in Woodstock. The Falcons return their entire starting lineup from a squad that went 12-6. 

WOODSTOCK - Success breeds success.

Central girls tennis coach Matt Smith found that out when he had 19 players show up for the first day of practice this spring. Smith decided to keep all 19 and is having two practices in order to accommodate everyone. He has one practice for the more experienced players and starters and another one for the rest of the team.

The Falcons were just one win shy of the state tourney last season and returned their entire starting lineup from a year ago.

"It's worked out better," Smith said of the two practices. "We've had more room to kind of spread out and focus more on things. And the girls are more in the same skill level."

Leading the way for the Falcons will once again be Michelle Kim, a sophomore. Last year, Kim reached the Class 2 state individual singles semifinals.

Junior Madison Smith will be playing at No. 2 singles for the Falcons.

Matt Smith said that junior Mackenzie Ryman and senior Lander Barbour will be in the No. 3 and 4 singles spots once again, although they could flip-flop back and forth throughout the season.

Senior Anna Truban is expected to start the season at No. 5 singles, while the No. 6 spot is up for grabs. Seniors Maiya Rodriguez and Krissica Tusing each played in the Top 6 some last year and will battle for the last spot along with freshman Erika Hutton.

Even though the team went 12-6 last year and had plenty of success, Matt Smith said he was pleasantly surprised how much all of his returners had improved in the offseason.

"Honestly, I am really impressed with where the girls are at coming back in the first week of practice," Matt Smith said. "They impressed me. (Last Wednesday's and Thursday's) practices were maybe the two best I've had since I was coaching. They were focused. I think because we had girls spread out in singles courts they were more focused. So they really went out and pushed themselves. So I'm proud of them."

The Falcons have five freshman and six sophomores to go with four juniors and four seniors.

Barbour said it feels a little different for her this season being a senior.

"It's really weird because it hasn't really hit me yet but it's slowly starting to," Barbour said. "And it's going to be hard leaving the team because we're all so close, and I'm sure we'll get close with the freshmen this year. It's weird being a senior, but I'm excited."

Madison Smith said that even though there are more players on the team, everyone is getting along well, which should help in the long run.

"It's different than last year but everybody's really close with each other, they're good friends," Madison Smith said. "So it all works out great. I think it's going to help us a lot. I think we can get further than we did last year. So I think we should have a really good season. Everybody seems to have come back even stronger than last season."

Kim said she has worked hard in the offseason and feels like she's improved her game.

"My volleys and serve have improved a lot," Kim said. "And also, I've just gotten a lot more match experience since last year."

Kim said her goal is to make it to the state tournament in singles and doubles and as a team.

The Falcons will have to deal with Bull Run District rival George Mason. The two teams split meetings in the regular season and were regular season co-champions last year. However, George Mason beat the Falcons in the Bull Run District tournament.

Matt Smith said he believes his team can take things a step further this season.

"As far as goals I'd like to see the team advance out of districts into regionals and perhaps beyond," he said. "I think we got the depth to do that. And if we're going to do it, this would be the year to do it."

Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at tkeeler@nvdaily.com