This young group managed to keep the streak alive until eventual state champion Roswell put an end to it in the Class AAAAA state quarterfinals. That halted the Lady Raiders’ streak at 158 match wins, and with it, eight consecutive state championships.
“The loss was a good thing,” Walton coach Christy Page said. “It needed to happen.”
With no streak on the line this season, and all of last year’s starters coming back, the Lady Raiders are beginning to show what they’re really capable of.
Walton’s new winning streak is now at 10, and they posted a perfect 7-0 mark in Region 5AAAAAA. The Lady Raiders will be the top seed in the region tournament, which starts with them hosting Cherokee on Tuesday.
Walton capped its perfect region record Thursday, extracting some payback for last year’s streak-ending loss with a 4-1 win at Roswell.
In a way, the Lady Raiders’ success this season may be due to their loss last May.
“It’s a lot nicer,” said Suzanne Zenoni, Walton’s unbeaten No. 1 singles player, about not having the long winning streak to worry about. “It’s a lot less pressure, and you can kind of play freely. I think the loss made us work harder and become better as a team together. We’re more in sync.”
Going into the region tournament, Walton’s lineup is the same as it is was last year, with the exception of No. 2 doubles. Sophia Guldberg is back in the lineup alongside Erica Bauer after injuring her back prior to last season’s region tournament.
That twosome, along with Jessica Cramer and Katie Riley at No. 1 doubles, seem to jell well together, which has been a boost.
Page said Guldberg has emerged a stronger player, mentally and physically, than she was prior to the injury. She and Bauer also have a solid serve-and-volley combination that helps them win quick points.
Guldberg and Bauer are coming off one of their biggest wins of the year when they, coming from behind Thursday to beat a Roswell doubles team 2-6, 6-1, 7-5.
Having already played a full year at No. 1 doubles, Cramer and Riley are undefeated this year and look more fluent on court than in 2012. They communicate well and can anticipate where the other is at all times.
Now a sophomore, Zenoni has grown into the No. 1 singles spot. A steady baseline player, she had one of her better career wins Thursday, grinding out a 7-5, 7-5 victory over Roswell’s Summer Ralston, who has committed to the U.S. Naval Academy.
“Suzanne is calm and cool,” Page said. “Nothing gets to her.”
Melissa Mashburn, one of only two seniors on the Walton roster, has signed to play at Minnesota State University and is holding her own at the No. 2 singles spot. Johanna Keeline has resumed her spot at No. 3 singles, with Bauer occasionally playing there in relief.
With its win over Roswell, plus a 3-2 victory over Starr’s Mill on Friday in the first round of the Buckhead Rotary Tournament, Walton knows where it stands going into the region tournament, which will conclude in mid-April, when students return from spring break.
“First and foremost, beating one of the best teams in state 4-1 shows us where we stand,” Page said. “We haven’t played anyone quite at that level this season, so that was a big confidence-booster. It was good to know how our players responded in a difficult environment.”