Bruce Wade had some big shoes to fill when he made his debut as the Walton boys soccer coach this season.
Wade, who was the Walton girls soccer coach for the previous nine years, was replacing Bucky Boozer — who had won six state championships during his memorable 27-year tenure.
Not only that, but Wade was also inheriting a Walton team that had the bullseye on its back after winning the Class AAAAA state title in Boozer’s final season.
After struggling through an early period of adjustment, it was business as usual for Walton under its new coach as Wade led the Raiders to the Region 5AAAAA title and a state quarterfinal berth.
For maintaining Walton’s position among the state elite, Wade is the 2012 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County boys soccer coach of the year.
“Our seniors really came together and led the way for us,” Wade said. “We took some early lumps, but we pulled together and came out of it stronger than ever. I’m very fortunate to coach such a great group of players.”
With several new and younger players in the lineup and facing a tough early schedule, Walton struggled out of the gate with three losses in its first four games — losing to eventual state runner-up Centennial, eventual Class AAAA state runner-up Starr’s Mill and eventual AAA state champion Woodward Academy.
“We did get off to a slow start, but we played well against three quality teams,” Wade said. “We were still going through some adjustments, but we came out of it pretty well.”
Walton proceeded to lose only two more games in the regular season and went on to go undefeated in 5AAAAA play and win the region in convincing fashion.
The biggest win for Wade and his Walton squad was a 1-0 decision over Lassiter, which was ranked No. 1 in the nation in the ESPN Rise poll going into the season — a win which clinched the 5AAAAA title for the Raiders.
“It was a big-time win for us,” Wade said. “The boys played a fantastic game. It was a tough game, but we were able to pull off the 1-0 win and I couldn’t be more prouder of the boys.”
Walton’s bid to repeat as state champions came to an end in the quarterfinals as the Raiders lost to Parkview 3-2 in overtime.
“We were expecting to get to the finals, but we ran into a good Parkview team,” Wade said. “We had chances to score, but we didn’t finish. We were disappointed not to go back to the state finals, but I’m proud of our effort.”
Wade will have some holes to fill going into his second year at the Walton helm in 2013, with the departure of midfielder Holden Fender (UCLA), goalkeeper Alex McCauley (N.C. State), defender J.D. Nouriachi and forward Grant Cooksey.
However, Wade has high hopes for Walton to maintain its lofty perch among the state elite.
“We’re losing quality players like Holden, Alex and J.D., but we have some quality kids coming up from our JV team, so things are looking good for next year,” Wade said.