Third-year Walton coach Christy Lewis knows it’s her job to put the best players in the right positions. Even with six of seven starters returning from last year’s state championship team, she still made lineup changes.
Now that she’s led the Lady Raiders to yet another perfect season, and their second straight Class AAAAAA state championship, Lewis must be doing something right.
Twin freshmen Emily and Grace Gaskins proved themselves to be a reliable No. 2 doubles pair, and the arrival of former home-school player Bella Kuse added even more firepower to Walton’s singles lineup.
In the end, the Lady Raiders got the final result they’ve grown used to getting, before their state-record streak of 158 straight wins and eight consecutive state titles was snapped in 2012.
After finishing with an 18-0 record this spring, Walton’s new winning streak is at 35, with two state titles.
With the lineup Lewis put together toward the beginning of the season, Walton grinded out a 3-1 win over Alpharetta in this year’s Class AAAAAA championship to give Walton 10 state titles in the last 11 years and 12 in the last 14.
“Every year, I just go out and put the best five lines, the best singles players and the best doubles team out there,” said Lewis, the 2014 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Girls Tennis Coach of the Year. “When it gets to the end, it’s going to be the strongest lineup, no matter who has been on the team.
“We do a good job all year long rotating between singles and doubles, and people playing and people sitting.”
The Gaskins sisters ended up getting the starting nod over last year’s No. 2 doubles, pair Erica Bauer and Sophia Guldberg, both of whom were returning this season. The chemistry between the sisters were paramount, with Lewis saying that the two knew where the other was on the court at all times.
A another major decision Lewis had to make this year was bumping Suzanne Zenoni down to No. 2 singles, and putting Kuse at the top spot.
That proved to be the toughest decision, but a decision that boded well in Walton’s favor.
Both Zenoni and Kuse were equal in ability in Lewis’ eyes, but they had entirely different styles. While Zenoni appeared to be the steadier player, Kuse had more powerful weapons at her disposal and was able to use them against other premier players at the No. 1 position.
“Both had entirely different games, and that went into the decision on who played where,” Lewis said. “They would both play at practice. Bella had more powerful shots, and in some big matches, that gave her an edge. Both are phenomenal players and it’s hard to compare.”
After settling into at Walton, Kuse won 14 straight matches to help put Walton back into the state championship. That included a three-set win over Roswell’s Laura Patterson, who signed with Georgia.
Even though Kuse didn’t win her match against Alpharetta in the state championship, Zenoni came through to win the final point with a three-set victory.