The Lady Raiders appeared to have taken the lead.
Though Walton has always been known for its depth — and this year is no exception — the Lady Raiders now have more star power, most of which are underclassmen.
While Walton has managed to use its depth to snag the county title from Lassiter on occasion in recent years, it had yet to top the Lady Trojans in a state meet.
That ended this season.
Not only did Walton win the county title for a second straight year — by two points over Lassiter — the Lady Raiders had the edge in the state meet as well. Walton finished fourth in Class AAAAAAA, besting its rival by nine points.
The state meet was capped by a victory in the 400-meter freestyle relay that sealed the Lady Raiders’ fourth-place finish.
First-year coach Mary Howell Hafner, previously an assistant to Sharon Loughran before Loughran stepped aside to focus on coaching soccer, went into the 2013-14 season with a leg up on what kind of depth and talent the Lady Raiders had.
Walton may not have won county, or placed so high at state, had it not been for its underclassmen, and it was up to Howell Hafner to have her young swimmers ready to compete at the varsity level.
“Our team spirit was vital to encouraging our young athletes,” said Howell Hafner, the 2013-14 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Girls Swimming Coach of the Year. “Our young athletes learned quickly that I believed in them, and their teammates were cheering them on in every event.”
Based on the underclassmen who stepped up this season — freshmen Evan Arsenault, Emma Cole and Gabbie Gauntt, to name a few — Walton could be in contention for several more years.
Cole and Gauntt were on the 400 freestyle relay team that prevailed at state meet, swimming alongside senior Kira de Bruyn and junior Mary Beckwith. The quartet eclipsed their county-meet time — which was second to Lassiter at the time — by more than 3 seconds.
“I was also so proud of our girls at the state meet,” Howell Hafner said. “They left everything in the pool during the 400 free relay. It was so fun to watch and cheer for Emma Cole, Gabbie Gauntt, Mary Beckwith and Kira de Bruyn, as they gave us a perfect ending to an amazing meet.”
Arsenault and Gauntt was also key in lifting Walton to a fifth-place finish in the 200 freestyle relay.
Cole stood out among the underclassmen. She posted county wins in the 200 and 500 freestyles, then was second at the state meet in the 500 and third in the 200.
De Bruyn, signed to swim at Georgia Tech next season, came up short of winning her third state title in the 200 individual medley, but she still finished second overall. She was also seventh in the 100 breaststroke.