Those were the days when eventual Division I players Katherine Oudin and Sydney Grant was leading the team at No. 1 and No. 2 singles, respectively, and were not strong in doubles.
The dynamics have changed since Walker last made the state finals in 2010. They don’t have a potential Division I star on the roster at the moment and only one player plays tournaments year-round.
Yet coach Jan Steffen found a way to lead the Lady Wolverines to a state championship against teams that have experienced tournament players.
After qualifying for the Class A private school state tournament as Region 6A’s No. 3 seed, the Lady Wolverines, who emerged as state champions despite finishing with a 9-8 record, traveled to every postseason match. They didn’t stop trekking until they beat Mount Pisgah 3-2 in the finals at Clayton County International Park, joining the Walker boys as state champions.
And Walker made it to the finals by winning a pair of 3-2 matches over Brookstone and Pace Academy.
“The boys were expecting to win state,” Steffen said. “We kept doing our job and wining our matches. It kind of shocked the boys that we were also celebrating a state championship.”
Knowing she wasn’t going to have top-tier players on her roster, Steffen wanted to win with two strong doubles teams, and she found the right combinations to be successful.
For her efforts, Steffen was named Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Girls Tennis Coach of the Year.
“I wasn’t real sure what to expect,” Steffen said when asked about her expectations for this season. “We had two freshmen and a sophomore that could be impact players but wasn’t sure. I knew in the past, we relied on singles players to get us through our matches, but I knew that wasn’t going to happen this year.”
Freshman Audrey Cunningham was the only confirmed tournament player on Walker’s roster with freshman and No. 3 singles player Mia Patello on track to play tennis year-round.
The biggest pivotal move Steffen made was pairing Cunningham and sophomore Leigh Norsworthy at No. 1 doubles. With Walker being outplayed at No. 1 and No. 2 singles in its state final match against Mount Pisgah, Cummingham and Norsworthy’s came through with a 7-5, 6-4 win over Nicole Peters and Cissy Jamieson at No. 1 doubles after losing to Peters and Jamieson in the 6A tournament semifinals.
Holly Harkins and Caroline Kunitz also jelled at No. 2 doubles, which helped the Lady Wolverines.
Walker also benefitted when Carly Bloom raised her game down the stretch at No. 2 singles. Bloom, who was a doubles player as a freshman when Walker last made the state finals, got a pivotal straight set win against Brookstone before Cunningham and Norsworthy won the clincher.
Steffen strengthened the Lady Wolverines with a difficult non-region schedule. Walker played Harrison, North Cobb and Hillgrove and Woodstock and nearly beat Harrison.