Still, Walton will enter the 2012 season with a new head coach and a roster filled with new faces, giving opponents a glimmer of hope that the Lady Raiders’ 147-match winning streak, and their run of eight consecutive state titles, could come to an end.
Knowing the pressure of keeping such a streak alive mounts every season, some may wonder if a team of underclassmen are equipped to handle it.
The Lady Raiders were in a similar situation in 2008, when Emily Zabor, Maxie Weinberg and Stephanie Falcon were freshmen, and they only needed an hour or less to beat most of their competition. Walton would then go on to lose just one point through the entire 2009 season.
Walton finally said goodbye to Zabor, Weinberg, Falcon and both of their senior doubles teams last year, but the resumes of Walton’s next batch of freshmen looks promising.
“We’re going to be young, but I think we’ll be just as strong as ever,” said Christy Page, who took the reins of the Lady Raiders’ varsity team after coaching the JV squad under former coach Roberta Manheim.
Johanna Keeline is a four-star recruit who is already getting interest from Georgia Tech, UCLA and Pepperdine, according to the Tennis Recruiting Network website. Meanwhile, Suzanne Zenoni is another four-star recruit that’s ranked 12th in the state, 40th in the Southeast and 124th nationally in her age group.
Jessica Cramer is another top-20 player in the state, and she, too, is ranked in the Southern and national seedings. Sheena Mookerji and Sophia Guldberg are also experienced year-round tournament players in the rankings.
Though Page said the team’s starting positions are still wide-open, all five freshmen have the credentials to secure one.
“The girls are all very excited, and this is always nerve-racking time,” Page said. “We had 30 girls try out (last week), and we took five. Everyone is excited to be a part of Walton tennis and the program. We’re going to focus on who is best at singles and at doubles. I will be working with them on that.”
The Lady Raiders won’t rely strictly on their freshmen for their success this season.
Returning junior Melissa Mashburn and sophomores Ansley Bridges and Emily Harte are expecting to have expanded roles. Junior Hannah Sherrod is another new addition with tournament experience, along with sophomore newcomers Katie Riley, Erica Bauer and Anne Gaskins.
Region 5AAAAA may pose a few challenges for Walton and could make for a few intriguing matchups.
Lassiter returns its singles lineup of Natalie Kieta and Amanda and Rachel Sumner, while Etowah’s Nicole LaDuca, an East Carolina signee, is expected to lead a dangerous Lady Eagle squad that gave Walton fits in the finals of last year’s region tournament.