Experience would seem to be in the hands of the Lady Raiders when they head to Clayton County International Park today to play for yet another state championship, in the Class AAAAAA final against Peachtree Ridge.
But this year’s Walton players, who are mostly sophomores, have never played for a state title. With the exception of No. 2 singles player Melissa Mashburn, a senior who was a backup on Walton’s state championship teams in 2010 and ’11, this will be the players’ first trip to Jonesboro.
So, too, will it be for Christy Page as a head coach. After taking the reins last season from former coach Roberta Manheim with an almost entirely rebuilt roster, Walton lost for the first time in nine years, falling to eventual state champion Roswell in the state quarterfinals.
“They’re very excited and don’t seem to be nervous at all,” Page said. “They will decorate their cars in the morning and head on down. This year, they want it. I’m really looking forward to it, too.”
Now, Walton (17-0) is back in familiar territory and will face a Peachtree Ridge team that’s long been a tough opponent for the Lady Raiders.
Singles will be key for Walton in today’s championship, particularly at No. 1, where sophomore Suzanne Zenoni will go up against LSU signee Abby Owens. Walton is also strong at doubles, with Katie Riley and Jessica Cramer delivering several key wins in their second year of playing together at the No. 1 slot.
“Their whole team is strong and we expect the singles to be really close matches,” Page said. “We’re going to have to go out there and play our very best.”
The North Cobb boys are in their first state championship match after bowing out in the semifinals last season.
After grinding out a 3-2 victory over Peachtree Ridge in Tuesday’s semifinal, where all three singles players won, the Warriors will match up with Brookwood today for the Class AAAAAA crown.
Brookwood is coming off a 3-2 win over Westlake that came down to a three-setter at No. 3 singles.
North Cobb’s entire starting lineup is back from its semifinal run, anchored by singles ace Jaryd Reese and No. 2 player Andre Canino. But the Warriors will have to rely on their doubles to step up against Brookwood, which did not give up a game at doubles against Westlake.
The Walker boys will be playing for a state title for the first time since winning it in 2010, when the Wolverines face First Presbyterian Day in the Class A private school championship.
Six of Walker’s seven starters are seniors. Doubles standouts Austin Newsome and Will Chocallo are gunning for their second title after helping beat Wesleyan as freshmen.
While Newsome and Chocallo are back, they return with different partners. Chocallo will be paired up with Daniel Sosnovsky at No. 1, while Newsome will be playing with Sloan Coolbroth at No. 2.
“(First Presbyterian Day) is very strong at their singles,” Walker coach Barry Foy said. “Our strongest areas are No. 1 and No. 2 singles, and No. 1 and No. 2 doubles. We will have to win one of our (singles) matches.”
The Walker girls will also be playing for a state championship, after reaching the final as the No. 3 seed of Area 4A. The Lady Wolverines will have a familiar opponent as they match up against area rival Mount Pisgah Christian, which won 3-2 in the teams’ lone regular-season meeting.
Walker made it this far with three road wins, including a pair of 3-2 upsets over area champions Brookstone and Pace Academy.
Doubles have been key for the Lady Wolverines in their postseason run, with Audrey Cunningham and Leigh Norsworthy at No. 1 and Caroline Kunetz and Holly Harkins at No. 2.
Freshman Mia Patillo is having a solid debut at No. 3 singles.