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Ever since she played in the City Tennis Tournament finals in 2008 at age 12 (the youngest finalist in the 100-year history of the tournament), everyone wondered how well Leah Barnes was going to do as a high school player a few years later.
Well. Very well.
The freshman put together the best record in Canterbury history this season, going 28-1, finishing second in the state singles finals as an individual the week after helping the Cavaliers reach the team state finals for the first time. Barnes is The News-Sentinel PrepSports Player of the Year for Girls Tennis.
``She just made a huge difference in our team,'' Cavaliers coach Jerry Gerig said. ``When you have a strong No. 1 player coming in, it changes everybody's roles and makes everybody's spot that much stronger.''
It sure helped that the Cavaliers already had five returning seniors, including top singles player Paige Bixler. They all accepted the freshman, making Barnes' adjustment to high school tennis pretty easy. Barnes lost only one set during the regular season, to Penn's Alexandra Brinker whose only match loss this year came against Barnes. Brinker won the rematch in the state finals.
``When I played tournament tennis in the summer, I kind of knew what I was up against because I played against the same age division for years,'' Barnes said. ``In high school there are different types of players. You could face a pusher, a slicer or a banger, so you really have to be prepared.
``I've had a lot of fun. This is my first time to actually be on a team so I got to meet a lot of cool people and bond with everyone. It really helped me to make friends in school, too.''
Before this year, Barnes was coached by her father Ron, a noted Fort Wayne amateur tournament player and high school coach. That was another adjustment to high school tennis.
``When I played in USTA tournaments, it was just me and if I win or lose it's on me,'' she said. ``When I'm playing on the team, you have the team counting on you so you have to make sure you play your best no matter what.''
She never let her team down.
``We knew that we needed her to win if we were going to beat the teams at state,'' Gerig said. ``That puts a lot of pressure on her, but she's risen to it every time we've needed her to. Sometimes we're busy coaching the other girls just to get that third point, so sometimes she ges taken for granted in the coaching, but she knows what she's doing out there, and she so dominant she doesn't need a lot of help.''
Because of her speed and power, Barnes can play several different styles. She forces opponents to try making shots they aren't capable of, causing errors, or they try to survive by keeping the ball in play. That's when she overpowers them.