The Lady Raiders, who beat Chattahoochee in four sets Nov. 2, is being recognized as part of the MaxPreps Tour of Champions. The team will be presented with a national ranking trophy Friday during the school’s winter pep rally.
“The significance of the trophy for us is that is a team trophy,” said Walton coach Suzanne Fitzgerald, who, in the fall, finished her eighth season with the Lady Raiders. “Not one individual receives more or less recognition than another. Because of this, I prize this award more than any other.
“This award reflects years of hard work and discipline, not just this season. While this year’s team receives the actual trophy, it was the years and athletes that came before them that allowed this team to receive the recognition.”
Walton finished the season ranked No. 44 in the nation by MaxPreps and is one of only 10 schools in the nation being honored by the high school sports website.
Walton had a gut check during the finals of the Area 4AAAAAA tournament, when it needed five sets to beat Roswell, after having beaten the Lady Hornets in straight sets in their three previous meetings.
Once the Class AAAAAA state playoffs began, Walton peaked. The Lady Raiders cruised through the first three rounds and played their best match against one of the hotter teams in the bracket — South Forsyth — and Walton beat that team soundly in three sets.
And now the Lady Raiders will be recognized in front of the student body.
“The girls seem excited,” Fitzgerald said, “but I’m not sure it will actually hit them until they stand in front of their peers at the pep rally and feel what it feels like to be recognized for all of their hard work, discipline and sacrifice to achieve something of this value.”
Walton has won nine state championships since volleyball became a sanctioned sport in 1993. It previously won five straight from 1998-2002 and will be shooting for another five-in-a-row string next fall.
Since Fitzgerald took over in 2006, she’s created a massive feeder program that includes a JV team, three middle-school teams and a middle-school developmental squad.
Walton has also produced several college players under Fitzgerald’s watch, including Leah Best (Cal State Fullerton), Kelly Murphy (Michigan), Katherine Plessy (Florida State) and Anouska Best (Illinois-Chicago). The anchor of the most recent championship team, Marietta Daily Journal Player of the Year Jessica Sloan, will begin playing for Dayton next fall.
“Most have no idea how hard we train and hard we work, nor do they realize how much out other athletic coaches and programs assist us in finding time and the place to train,” Fitzgerald said. “We receive so much support from our student body as well.”