Central enters Wednesday's showdown with undefeated George Mason as near full strength as the Falcons have been all season and just in time for the postseason.
Central has been without No. 1 singles player senior Michelle Kim throughout the year until last week due to injury. The Falcons have also been playing without Hannah Borden for the last couple weeks, but coach Matt Smith said he's hoping to have her back against the Mustangs on Wednesday.
The Falcons lost to Class 3 Northwestern District rival George Mason, 9-0, in the season opener. The two teams have been rivals for a number of years. In 2019, George Mason beat Central three times in the regular season and postseason, but the Falcons turned the tables and won in the Region 2B final on their way to the state semifinals.
"I am excited because they're such a good team," Smith said. "We've grown as a team, and I'm sure they have as well. I'd like to see how we do. We didn't have Michelle (Kim) when we played last time. Our lineup, our seeding was a little different, because we were just getting started and hadn't gotten all our challenge matches in. I'm excited to see how we match up against them because honestly when we played them last time I thought we did good. We had a lot of matches that went to deuce and we just couldn't come through. I think we've gained a lot of experience, and I am optimistic we're going to perform better."
Kim, a 2019 singles Class 2 state semifinalist, said last week that she was still not 100 percent recovered from a hand injury, but she was just happy to be able to play again and looking forward to playing George Mason.
"I'm excited to play them," Kim said. "Unfortunately, I didn't get to play them the first time and they're a great team — they always have been. So I'm ready. I'm a little nervous, because I've never played the girl who I think is their No. 1 seed. They're a solid team all around."
Smith said it's great having Kim back, but he's been really proud of the play of junior Erika Hutton, who took over the No. 1 spot when Kim was out.
"I'm super impressed with Erika Hutton stepping up at No. 1," Smith said. "I think that's where she's going to be next year. So it's good. We hated having Michelle out, but it's good from that perspective that Erika got that experience playing some of the best players from other schools and doing well at it."
The Falcons (7-2, 6-2 Bull Run) have won seven in a row after losing their first two matches of the season --to George Mason and Skyline. The Falcons lost in a tiebreaker to Skyline in doubles, but have since played well in doubles. The Falcons swept the Hawks in doubles the second time they met and swept Warren County in doubles to rally for a 5-4 victory last week.
"I've been really happy with the doubles play," Smith said. "That's where we've really shined is in our doubles play. I think our net play has improved. The girls have really got into playing at the net and trying to poach balls and make their opponent just have to react that much quicker and take the time away from them. I think that's the big difference, and they're seeing success in it now and it's clicking. We're sticking with that concept and it's been working good."
The Warriors completed an undefeated regular season and now will look to have success in the postseason.
Sherando will be the top seed on Friday in the Class 3 Northwestern District tournament.
Sherando girls tennis coach Trevor Johnson said depth has been a big key to his team's success.
"It's really nice when you have 1-through-6 and they can all battle each other," Johnson said. "There's not one who just dominates the whole team. And when they do the challenge ladders and they fight and they switch positions and then they're like 'I want to challenge again.' So they know that they earned their singles spots based on their challenges."
Johnson said he's been happy with the results and pulling out some tough matches against rivals Millbrook and Handley.
Sherando is led by seniors Emily Loy and Adelaide Gannon, but also has some youth on the squad. Johnson said the team is looking forward to seeing how they can perform in the postseason.
"The girls, I think, are excited and pumped, so I think they're looking forward to that," Johnson said. "It's really been a weird year. ...We didn't have a normal preseason conditioning. We didn't have the normal preseason practices. It's been weird and we've had things happen, but I'm proud of the way they have coped, dealing with all these things that happen, popped up."
The Generals have put together a solid girls tennis season despite having a small team.
Stonewall Jackson has seven players and only one senior but the Generals have put together a respectable season.
They have a junior (Charlotte Miller), sophomore (Mya Councill) and a freshman (Ava Pittington) playing in the top three singles spots and having success. They have also had success at the bottom of the ladder with Amelia Hess, a junior, Sidney Wymer, the team's only senior, and Carly Thomas, a junior.
The Generals are 2-4 overall and in the Bull Run District, but have two big matches this week with Clarke County. A sweep of the matches could vault the Generals into third place in the district. Tournament play starts next week.
The Generals have shown improvement throughout the season. After losing to Shenandoah County rival Strasburg in the season opener, they defeated the Rams 7-2 in a rematch on May 10.
Stonewall Jackson plays at Clarke County on Wednesday and hosts the Eagles on Thursday.