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Central’s Madison Smith follows through on a shot in a match during the Bull Run District tournament last year at W.O. Riley Park in Woodstock. Smith is one of four seniors who helped the program reach the Class 2 state semifinals last year.

Central’s four seniors were all part of the girls tennis program going from the bottom to the top.

Central seniors Cameron Baker, Anna Jeffrey, Mackenzie Ryman and Madison Smith were on the girls tennis team all four years of high school. Their freshman year they won only three matches as a team but last year they won the Region 2B tournament title and advanced to the Class 2 state semifinals.

Ryman said that last year was the most memorable one for her, individually and as a team.

“I would have to say it was this past season, my junior year,” Ryman said. “I was undefeated in singles until we got to the state semifinals, and that’s when I lost my first match. But I think overall that was my favorite part, was just being able to get there with the team.”

Ryman has played at either No. 3 or 4 singles seed her entire career at Central. She said it was special seeing the success of the team last year.

“It was surreal,” she said. “We were all so nervous, but we were confident in our play. We knew that we had worked hard to get there. I remember before the matches started we talked with (Central girls tennis) coach (Matt Smith) and we were like even if we lose today because it was (three-time reigning state champion) Maggie Walker (Governor’s School) – we were pretty scared. But we were like even if we lose today we did so well and we worked so hard to get where we are – and that’s honestly the best accomplishment.”

Madison Smith said that being in the state tournament last year was special but the win over George Mason in the regional finals was the highlight for her. The Falcons had lost three times in the regular season and district tournament before turning things around and avenging the losses in regionals.

“I just thought it was a great win that we had,” Madison Smith said. “Coming back against George Mason when we had lost to them in the districts. I just think it was something that we knew we were capable of all season, but it was great to see it come together and take us to states.”

Madison Smith has played at No. 2 singles seed all four years for the Falcons. She said she started playing in seventh grade and began playing with her dad Matt Smith.

She said that there are several things she loves most about the sport.

“I like that it can be an individual sport and a team sport,” Madison Smith said. “It kind of gives me an outlet to relieve any stresses I’m dealing with, and I just like that it’s something that I can share with my dad.”

Madison Smith said having her dad as a coach has been special for her.

“It was really special,” she said. “I’m glad I got to experience that since it’s not something that happens a lot. But it’s definitely brought us closer together. It’s created a closer bond with us. I’m glad that tennis is a lifelong sport that I will be able to play with him for a long time.”

Matt Smith said that Madison made things easy for him to be a father and a coach.

“It’s been unique,” Matt Smith said. “I’ve got to give her credit because it’s obviously been a little bit harder for her with me being her dad and her coach. But she’s always been very mature about it. She always had the ability to separate the dad from the coach. She’s had to help set up and tear down (before and after matches). So she always had more of a role than the others did, and maybe I expected more from her, set the bar higher because that would kind of set the tone for the other girls. I think she inherently recognized that and that helped me a lot with just her serious nature about it and never blurred the line for dad and coach.

“But at the same time she was always very respectful and wanted me to do well. She really helped me as a coach, just being on the team.”

Madison Smith said that she’s also happy that she played with Central junior Michelle Kim, who plays at No. 1 singles. Kim advanced to the Class 2 state semifinals in individual singles the last two seasons. Kim and Madison Smith came up just short of qualifying for the state doubles tournament last season.

“I’m really lucky to have played with Michelle,” Madison Smith said. “She’s pushed me so much, and I think she’s made me a better player. It’s upsetting that we aren’t going to be able to see where we would have gone with each other in doubles. But she’s just really pushed me and she’s made me a better player, I think.”

Ryman said the four seniors have developed a strong bond over the last four years.

“We all grew up together,” she said. “I think it’s that way for every senior class, but I think when you’re on a sports team together you just kind of bond more. I didn’t really know these girls before I joined the team. Like I knew them and we were friends, but we weren’t very close. And tennis has really given us an opportunity to get closer, and I’m really happy to be close friends with them.”

Baker said her favorite moments with the team were the team bonding off the court.

“I think just the bus rides to games were always so much fun with the girls,” Baker said. “And going out to eat after all the games. Just being real close with all of my team members was probably the most fun part for me.”

Baker, who also runs cross country, said the reason she started playing tennis was because of how close the team typically is.

“I was just always interested in tennis and how close the team looked,” she said. “Tennis was always known to be like a close-knit team. It was just a sport that was more relaxed, and I felt like I wanted to challenge myself and learn a new sport. Everyone is such good people that play tennis, and we were all so close. My team was so close, and we were all best friends.”

While Madison Smith and Ryman are four-year starters, Matt Smith said that Baker and Anna Jeffrey were going to play much bigger roles on the team this year as well. Baker was slated to be in the top six singles lineup with Jeffrey in the doubles lineup.

“Cameron, this year she was going to be playing in the seeded position more regularly,” Matt Smith said. “I was looking forward to seeing what she could do and contribute. Her game’s improved through the years. Anna Jeffrey, I was looking for her to kind of be a doubles specialist for us. She was tall and good at the net and good at serving. I was excited to see what they were going to do.”

Matt Smith said he enjoyed coaching all four of them and he hated seeing their senior season not happen.

“They’ve been a good group of girls,” he said. “They never gave me any issues. They came out and played hard, and they were a fun group of girls to have on the team.”

Ryman and Baker are planning to attend George Mason University in the fall. Ryman said she plans to play intramural tennis there, while Baker said she won’t play in college but does want to keep playing the sport recreationally. Madison Smith said she plans to attend James Madison University and hopes to play at the club level at the school.

Ryman said it’s amazing to look back on what Central’s girls tennis program accomplished over the last four years.

“It was crazy,” Ryman said. “It’s surreal, because when you join a team freshman year you’re like ‘OK I’m going to feel this out, see what happens.’ Then you get so attached to being on the team. And by my junior year I was getting emotional that this year was going to be my last year. And as a senior now we didn’t get to have a season, but I’m still proud of everything we’ve done looking back.”

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