It was a sense of redemption for the Lady Raiders after seeing their all-sport state record of 158 straight wins — and eight consecutive state championships — snapped the previous season.
Walton, which finished with an 18-0 record in 2013, has won nine state championships in the last 10 years, all of the title-winning seasons coming with undefeated records.
With six of their seven starters returning, the Lady Raiders could be destined for another flawless season.
Walton’s long-lasting streak came to an end in 2012 with a roster full of inexperience, primarily freshmen, as well as a new coach. Now the Lady Raiders will look to continue an upswing, with coach Christy Lewis now in her third season and the 2012 underclassmen now the veteran leaders of the team.
“With half the team being sophomores last year, winning a state championship was huge,” Lewis said. “We’re going into this season with half the team being juniors, and I think they will go in with more confidence.”
Although the starting lineup hasn’t been finalized, junior Suzanne Zenoni is expected to return to No. 1 singles, a position she’s held the last two seasons. With Melissa Mashburn graduating and now playing collegiately in Minnesota, junior Johanna Keeline is in line to jump from No. 3 to No. 2 singles, leaving the No. 3 spot up for grabs.
It’s unlikely that Walton will separate its No. 1 doubles duo of senior Katie Riley and junior Jessica Cramer. The twosome have never lost a match in the two seasons they’ve played together, nor have they lost a set.
If the doubles lineup remains the same, juniors Sophia Guldberg and Erica Bauer would return at No. 2.
Freshman sisters Emily and Grace Gaskins are newcomers who will add depth and competition, along with seniors Anne Gaskins and Hailey Tant and juniors Kristen O’Brien and Sheena Mookerji.
While Walton is looking to extend its streak, Kennesaw Mountain is seeking to improve its streak. The Lady Mustangs are coming off back-to-back state semifinal appearances and are ready to go at least one step further.
Singles talent keeps coming in for Kennesaw Mountain. The Lady Mustangs appear set at No. 1 and No. 2 singles, with sophomore Samantha Armas and junior Nicole Croxton. Freshman Sophia Suri, ranked in the top 10 in Georgia in her age group, will compete for the No. 3 spot.
“I had (Suri) and Samantha playing against each other the other day and they were wailing the ball at each other,” Kennesaw Mountain coach Connie Bailey said. “It was pretty impressive.”
Another option for Bailey is to strengthen her doubles by pairing Suri with junior Chika Okonkwo, who played No. 3 singles last year
Allatoona has garnered respect over the years, advancing to the Class AAA finals in 2012 and making a semifinal run in the Class AAAAA tournament last season.
The Lady Buccaneers are capable of another Region 5AAAAA title and deep playoff run, led by senior Kennedy Craig at No. 1 singles. Sisters Allison and Melanie Whitley, both juniors, are returning to play both singles and doubles, along with senior Haley Proctor.
Walker defied the odds as the No. 3 seed out of Area 4A, claiming the Class A state private-school championship without many year-round players on its roster.
The Lady Wolverines are bringing back all four starters at doubles — one pairing of seniors Holly Harkins and Caroline Kunetz, and another of junior Leigh Norsworthy and sophomore Audrey Cunningham.
Senior Amitha Muthiah is back after playing No. 1 singles last season, but Walker is looking to strengthen its singles lineup after graduating two starters. The talent pool is strong with four freshmen on the roster.