With most of its key runners returning from last year’s Class AAAAA state title squad, Walton is the favorite to win AAAAAA in 2012 and achieve a three-peat.
“The girls know the expectations are even bigger now that we’ve won back-to-back titles,” Walton coach Travis Gower said. “We’ve got most of our girls coming back from last year and they did a good job in getting ready for the season this summer, so that will help keep us improving.”
And with a majority of their top performers sophomores with three more years of eligibility left, the Lady Raiders’ state title run might just extend even longer to develop a dynasty comparable to that of Collins Hill’s run of six straight titles from 2003-08.
“There are teams that have had long runs as state champions like Collins Hill, which won the state title several years in a row, and Walton won several titles in the late 70’s and early 80’s,” Gower said. “We would like to have that kind of run.”
Walton loses Kelsey Taylor, Lia Sewell and Maddie Seiloff from the 2011 state championship team, but Gower and his Lady Raiders have re-loaded with a deep and talented squad — which includes a strong group of sophomores who emerged late in the season as freshman to help push the Lady Raiders to their second straight state crown.
“We have a good group coming back,” Gower said. “We have a lot of girls who ran in both state championships. Four of our top five runners last year were freshmen and they played a big part in our success. We have good experienced and very deep team.”
Leading the way once again is senior Alexa Womack, who is among the top contenders for the state individual title in AAAAAA after finishing runner-up in AAAAA last year.
Gower said Walton will be relying on Womack for her leadership as well after being selected team captain for this season.
“Alexa is definitely our leader,” Gower said. “She has been a big part of our team since her freshman year. As a senior, she was unaminously chosen as captain by our team and she does a good job in leading them. She finished second at the state meet last year and she should be right back up there again this year.”
Also returning is Walton’s formidable sophomore trio of Sara Hardin, Avery Bussjager and Christie Sanders — who each finished in the top-20 individually at the state meet in 2011.
Junior Emily Bridges and senior Cristina Gnecco are among the other key runners for the Lady Raiders.
Walton will certainly be tested in a challenging Region 5AAAAAA than includes state top-10 finishers Lassiter, Milton, Roswell and Woodstock.
“It’s by far the deepest region in the state of Georgia,” Gower said. “Milton, Lassiter, Roswell and Woodstock are all very good teams and they will be among the top teams in the state as well as the region. It’s going to be a tough region for us and we just have to focus on getting better week after week.”