Today, however, I can think of seven moments in particular.
I was lucky enough to give the Walton girls tennis team coverage for the duration of what ended up being the longest winning streak in Georgia high school sports history — 158 consecutive matches. I covered seven of the eight-straight state championships, and it’s an experience that will likely only happen once.
Winning 158 straight times in anything is rarely done, let alone in high school sports.
Streaks don’t last forever. I know that. Walton knows that. The Lady Raiders lost a match for the first time in nine years last week when Roswell defeated them in the Class AAAAA state quarterfinals.
How long exactly does that make the streak? Their previous loss occurred when this year’s freshmen were kindergartners.
During the streak, Walton dominated nearly all of its matches. There were few close encounters, and most of Walton’s wins took an hour or less.
And while the Lady Raiders won’t win a title when the girls champion is crowned today in Jonesboro, the dynasty isn’t over yet.
With the talent that continues to come in year after year, I foresee the Lady Raiders returning to their dominating ways under coach Christy Page and collecting a few more state championships this decade.
Just don’t expect the Lady Raiders to go another 158 matches before losing again.
I covered the first of Walton’s eight championships back in 2004 at Stone Mountain. Had I been able to predict the future then, I would have given the Lady Raiders more than 294 words in that article.
I missed the 2005 state title run, but returned to cover the Lady Raiders’ third consecutive win in 2006 — the last time the finals were held in Stone Mountain — and I wrote about their remaining five when the championships moved to Jonesboro.
I rarely checked my heartbeat while watching Walton play in the state finals. Seemingly like clockwork, the Lady Raiders would take care of business once they got to the big stage.
Only one year did I begin to prepare for a loss. That was against Centennial in 2010 when Walton eked out a 3-2 victory for its seventh title.
Former coach Roberta Manheim, who stepped down after the 2011 season, must have been preparing for the worse as well. The first thing she said when I interviewed her was “Whew.”
Centennial had won the first sets in three of its five matches against Walton two years ago, and it was Claire Marshall and Amelia McIsaac who came from a set down at No. 1 doubles to win the clinching point.
There were years when Walton overcame its youth to maintain the winning streak. The 2008 team had a freshman doubles lineup, and its state quarterfinal against Brookwood came down to Maxie Weinberg and Kayla Brady coming from a set down to win it at No. 2 doubles.
The 2012 Lady Raiders were talented, but they were younger and more inexperienced than the teams of the past eight years. After graduating their entire starting lineup from 2011, Walton started two freshmen and a first-year junior starter at singles. Three of their four starting doubles players were underclassmen.
To their credit, this bunch won the program’s ninth straight Region 5AAAAA title without losing before storming into the state quarterfinals. The match against Roswell could have easily gone either way.
It came down to Erica Bauer and Emily Harte playing the part of Weinberg and Brady. This time, however, it just didn’t work out.
Oddly enough, I’m sure there is a part of the Walton tennis family that’s relieved the streak is finally over.
But now, they won’t have to worry about playing with the added pressure of constantly winning, and it may allow them play freely and possibly put together a more stringent non-region schedule. Allatoona, which will vie for the Class AAA title today, was Walton’s only non-region match this year, and I would love to see the Lady Raiders play the Lady Buccaneers again.
There’s also Region 4AAAAA champion Kennesaw Mountain, which will be playing Peachtree Ridge in today’s semifinal, and Mount Paran Christian, a Class A state quarterfinalist. There are also strong Class AAAA programs like Johns Creek and Lambert that aren’t far away, and Pope is expecting to be stronger next year.
With no winning streak on the line, it won’t hurt to lose once or twice if the result is a return to state championship form.