WOODSTOCK – Michelle Kim had another stellar girls tennis season but she had to work hard for her success.
The Central sophomore was able to advance to the Class 2 individual singles state semifinals for the second straight year but she had to rally from a set down twice to get there. Kim’s determination and fight were big factors in her ability to pull out close matches.
Central coach Matt Smith said Kim’s will to win helped her a lot in a couple of key matches this year.
“A couple times this year she’s taken a couple of these matches to three sets, but she always just puts her nose to the grindstone and just toughs it out,” Smith said. “She’s just mentally tough to just not give up and keep fighting to the very end.”
Kim’s first big challenge came against George Mason’s Maria Morris in the Bull Run District individual singles semifinals with a regional berth at stake. The two have developed a solid rivalry. Last year Kim beat Morris four out of five times, including the Region 2B individual singles final.
Kim beat Morris early in the season as well, but in the singles tourney things didn’t start out the way Kim had hoped. Morris won the first set 7-5, and took an early lead in the second set.
“I wanted to get that first set so badly,” Kim said. “When I lost it, I was pretty disappointed but I just told myself that I can win the next two sets. So I had to work really hard for that second set. At one point I thought I was going to lose. I kind of accepted it but then I told myself that I can’t give up. So when I got that second set I was like I can get the third set. The third set I just tried to play my best and it went pretty well.”
Kim rallied for the 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 win to and went on to win the Bull Run District individual singles title.
The same thing happened to Kim in the Region 2B individual singles tournament final. Kim lost the first set to George Mason’s Emerson Mellon but then rallied to win the next two sets for a 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory.
“I lost the first set badly,” Kim said. “I just came out ice cold and she was playing really well and hitting the ball hard. I told myself the same thing (as with the district semis). I can come back in the second set and then win the third set and that’s what I did. Mentally I just motivated myself. I just had to push myself and mentally tell myself that I can do it, and physically it’s very exhausting to go into the third set but I think tennis is more mental than physical.”
The win gave Kim her second straight individual singles regional title and state berth. She said that was a big accomplishment for her to do it two years in a row.
Kim almost advanced to the state tournament in doubles as well. She and teammate Madison Smith lost in the Region 2B individual doubles tournament final to George Mason’s Morris and Ciel Park, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (8).
Kim and Smith had lost every time they had played Morris and Park during the season but had their best performance against the pair in the regional individual final.
“That match was very nerve-wracking and intense,” Kim said. “We had lost to George Mason multiple times pretty badly. We told ourselves that this is do or die and that we just have to play our best and give it our all. When we got that first set, we were very relieved. After we got that first set, we were like we can actually win this. We were so close to winning that third set. We had multiple match points and I think that our nerves just got to us, and we had too many unforced errors. But we played great in that match. It was definitely one of our best matches ever.”
As great as Kim’s individual season was, she was just as pleased with how the team did this year. The Falcons went 16-4 and advanced to the Class 2 state semifinals. It was Central’s first trip to the state tournament in 20 years.
“My expectations were definitely exceeded,” she said. “I didn’t think we would do as well as we did. We made it to the state semifinals which was way beyond my expectations. I was really surprised but we worked hard. So I think we definitely deserved it.”
Kim said the highlight of the season for the team was defeating rival George Mason 5-4 to win the Region 2B title. The Falcons had lost to the Mustangs 6-3 in the regular season and 5-3 in the Bull Run District tourney final.
“That was such a great moment,” Kim said. “I definitely won’t forget it. We were all so happy, and each match was so tough. It was very nerve-wracking, especially winning the last doubles match. It was a great moment not only for just the team but for just Central in general.”
Kim went 22-1 this season and is now 41-3 in her career with the Falcons. She has not lost a match in the regular season in her first two years.
Kim lost to Maggie Walker’s Samantha Finnegan 6-1, 7-5 in the Class 2 individual singles state semifinals. Kim got off to a slow start and couldn’t recover.
“I definitely could have played better,” Kim said. “That match really taught me what I needed to work on for next year. It showed me what I needed to improve on and I was definitely disappointed after that match. But I’m still happy with how I played throughout the season and how far I got.”
Kim said she plans on working hard in the offseason and said she wants to become a more aggressive player next season, instead of playing a defensive style most of the time. She said that working with Emil Vassilev, the tennis pro at Stonebrook Club in Winchester, has helped her a lot and she looks forward to working with him to improve her game.
The Falcons are moving up from Class 2 to Class 3 next season along with rival George Mason and Maggie Walker. Despite the move up in classification, Kim said she has lofty goals for herself and the team.
“I’d like to go to states for singles, team and doubles,” Kim said. “We’re moving up to Class 3 so that will be tough, but I think we can definitely do it. For the team side, we’re losing two people but we’ll have a strong top four. So I think we can go back to states.”