The nine-year-long streak — the longest of any sport in state history — came to an end in the state quarterfinals last season, when the Lady Raiders lost a 3-2 heartbreaker at home to eventual state champion Roswell.
Now that Walton has lost for the first time since losing to Chattahoochee in the 2003 state quarterfinals, it returns practically its entire roster — perhaps to be the founders of a new Walton streak.
“The girls are looking great and everyone looks like they have improved from last year,” second-year coach Christy Page said. “Yes, we’re definitely more relaxed not having to worry about the streak anymore.”
Senior Melissa Mashburn and sophomores Suzanne Zenoni and Johanna Keeline are likely to anchor the singles lineup once again. The No. 1 doubles tandem of Katie Riley and Jessica Cramer are also returning.
Competing for a state championship won’t be easy for Walton. Roswell has joined the Lady Raiders in the new Region 5AAAAAA, Peachtree Ridge remains strong and last year’s Class AAAA state champion, Johns Creek, is now in Walton’s classification.
While the Lady Raiders remain a contender in the state’s top classification, Allatoona will be making a case in Class AAAAA after finishing as state runner-up in AAA a year ago.
Allatoona is throwing its name into the hat with plenty of talent coming back at both singles and doubles.
Junior Kennedy Craig, last year’s Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Player of the Year, is set to return at No. 1 singles, and she has already shown that she could play under postseason pressure.
Craig rallied from a 2-0 third-set deficit to win the decisive point of the Lady Buccaneers’ quarterfinal with defending state champion Woodward Academy last season. She was also the deciding factor against Richmond Academy in the semifinals, rattling off six straight games after falling behind 3-0 in the third set.
Junior Haley Proctor, who finished the season at No. 3 singles, is also returning, the twin doubles team of sophomores Allison and Melanie Whitney.
But Allatoona will still have to replace three starters. Last year’s No. 2 singles player, Olivia Howe, moved to Alabama, Kristy Lee (doubles) graduated and Caitlin Shannon (doubles) opted not to return.
Though there are holes to fill, Allatoona has a group of freshmen who have shown potential.
“We have freshmen coming up that can help us keep the same pace as last year,” Allatoona coach Joe Soley said. “I’m feeling that we’re not going to skip a beat.”
The Lady Buccaneers will be tested early with a tough non-region schedule that includes Etowah, Hillgrove and Kennesaw Mountain — all playoff teams in Class AAAAA last season.
Kennesaw Mountain is coming off a state semifinal appearance and is capable of returning to that stage with most of its lineup returning. Sophomore Nicole Croxton and senior Marilyn Corn will likely anchor the Lady Mustangs at No. 1 and No. 2 singles.
Mount Paran Christian will be younger this season, but it should still be a force in Region 6A after making a run to the state quarterfinals last year.
The Lady Eagles have shoes to fill after losing Lindsay Nochowicz and sisters Macy and Cristalei Polk, but they will still be experienced this season with returning seniors Hannah Lupas, Valentina Velasquez and Ashleigh Youra.