The Lady Raiders are playing their best volleyball, as evidenced by their 25-15, 25-15, 25-9 drubbing of South Forsyth in Wednesday’s Class AAAAAA state semifinal.
Walton (43-6) will have to play at its highest level just one more time when it faces Chattahoochee (48-9) in tonight’s championship match at Marietta High School. Experience weighs heavily in favor of the Lady Raiders, who have played on the big stage for the past four seasons, winning the last three titles.
The last significant scare Walton has endured came against Roswell in the Area 4AAAAAA championship, when it needed five sets to win after it had beaten the Lady Hornets in straight sets in their three previous meetings.
The Lady Raiders struggled on serve-receive in that match and didn’t pass well. They also had to adjust to Roswell’s aggressive serving after falling behind in sets, 2-1.
Walton, which has won its last 23 matches, has been fluent in those areas ever since, winning all four of its playoff matches in convincing fashion. South Forsyth was unable to keep it close in the Lady Raiders’ latest win, even as it came off the momentum of a five-set quarterfinal with Harrison.
Walton’s biggest challenge going into tonight’s match with Chattahoochee — winner of its last 17 matches — is backing up one fine performance with another.
“They now understand how important emotional stability is on the floor,” Walton coach Suzanne Fitzgerald said. “They can’t let the little things become big things, and they’ve showed that by staying calm.”
Added libero Ashley Dean: “We’re going to have to cheer every point and stay positive. Those have been our key words this year, and believing in ourselves.”
Walton is familiar with Chattahoochee, having beaten the Area 5AAAAAA champion three times this season. Two of those three victories come in straight sets, but Walton isn’t known for underestimating any opponent.
Fitzgerald talked a little about Chattahoochee at the season’s midway point and immediately brought up 6-foot-1 Lady Cougars setter Haley Templeton, who has committed to Miami. The Walton coach discussed Templeton’s ability to pass and attack, and also spoke highly about Chattahoochee’s libero, Claudia Coco, a Tennessee commitment and the state’s all-time leader in career digs.
Distracting Templeton’s rhythm is a priority, but if the Lady Raiders can serve and pass as efficiently as it did against South Forsyth, they’re in good shape.
“It’s going to come down to aggressive serving and serve-receive,” Dean said.
Lindsay Seagraves and Dalaney Hans have provided the bulk of Walton’s aggressive serving as of late, but Jessica Sloan and Celeste Fitzgerald are also known to go on runs.
The Lady Raiders will continue to involve all of their top hitters, including kill leaders Sloan and Seagraves. Leah Jackson and Ashley Miller are expected to take care of things in the middle.