WOODSTOCK – Central’s girls tennis team got stronger as the season went on.

The Falcons played their best tennis at the end of the season. Central coach Matt Smith said the highlight of the season was beating rival George Mason 5-4 to win the Region 2B title. The Falcons had lost to the Mustangs twice earlier in the season but turned it around when it mattered most.

“It was a tough match and we were hoping that we could do that,” Smith said. “Mason’s a tough team. They had beat us before but they just buckled down and did what they needed to do. They were all a great group of girls. They all had unique personalities but they all mesh together well and they all had the common goal of winning.”

The Falcons accomplished things this season they hadn’t done in 20 years – winning the regional title and advancing to the Class 2 state semifinals.

The team finished one win short of a state berth last season but had everyone returning this year. Smith had 19 players show up for tryouts and he decided to keep all 19.

Smith, The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2019 Girls Tennis Coach of the Year, ran two different practices so he would have more time to spend with some of the younger players, and he said he felt like that paid off.

With a mix of veteran players and younger players in the top six, the Falcons had a solid regular season. But once they got to regionals they began to take off. Central beat East Rockingham 5-0 to secure their first state berth in 20 years.

The Falcons lost 6-3 to George Mason in the regular season and then 5-3 to the Mustangs in the Bull Run District tourney final. However, the Falcons turned things around in the regional final. Just like in the district final, the score was tied 3-3 heading into doubles but this time the Falcons took two of the three individual matches to win the region crown.

“They play at a different level and play a different game than all the other teams we had seen,” Smith said. “The first time they kind of hit us and we just kind of reacted the best way we could. But then we kind of started implementing different strategies and ways we thought we could beat them. We saw ourselves getting better each match and it finally I guess came to a head when we played them in the regionals and won.”

Smith said the team even got a police escort through town on their way home from Falls Church after winning the region title.

The Falcons, who finished with a 16-4 record, then hosted and beat Randolph-Henry 5-0 in just 58 minutes in the Class 2 state quarterfinals.

“I think we really put on nice event,” Smith said. “We had a big turnout from the community. And for the girls to win and to win as easily as they did, it was just a nice thing to happen.”

The Falcons lost 5-0 to eventual Class 2 state champion Maggie Walker in the state semifinals. Smith said he was still proud of the way the team played against the reigning three-time state champions.

Central’s top six consisted of sophomore Michelle Kim, junior Madison Smith, senior Lander Barbour, junior Mackenzie Ryman, senior Anna Truban and freshman Erika Hutton.

Kim lost only one match all season and advanced to the individual singles state semifinals for the second straight year. Ryman lost only one match all season at No. 4 singles and Hutton lost only two matches at No. 6 singles.

Matt Smith said he will miss the seniors from this year’s team but he’s looking forward to next year as well.

The Falcons should return four of the top six. However, they will face a big challenge as they move from Class 2 to Class 3 along with rival George Mason and Maggie Walker.

Matt Smith said that many of his top six played a lot in the offseason last year, including playing at Stonebrook Club in Winchester, and he hopes they will continue to work on their games this offseason.

Matt Smith said that he was pleased with what the team accomplished this year and he wants to keep the program going at a high level.

“I was super proud of what we accomplished here in Woodstock,” he said. “We may not have the resources that some of the other places do. So to me, it was a very satisfying accomplishment. It got me more excited about it to say ‘OK we got to this level. We reached this goal. Now how can we try to sustain it and try to keep at that level?’”

– Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at tkeeler@nvdaily.com