That’s the price it paid for winning its first state championship.
Meanwhile, Pope and Harrison may have targets on their backs, too, after both teams made it to the finals of their respective classifications.
Most of the Class AAAAA contenders are focused on upending Walton, and that includes Harrison, which lost an 8-4 decision to the Raiders in last year’s state championship at the Hoyas’ Cobleigh Stadium.
Pope will have different battles to fight in a Class A-AAAA that’s wrought with experienced private school programs.
Walton is entering the 2012 seasons with many of its top scorers coming back. Its midfield is experienced behind seniors Alex Baker, Matt Morabito and Joe Cherof, and the Raiders are also strong on attack with junior Michael Gernatt and sophomore Alex Poole.
Walton’s biggest concern this season will come in the backfield, where it will have to replace goalkeeper Michael Harper and defender Jack Chase, but the Raiders do have a few options with younger players stepping up.
When it comes down to it, Walton’s season will depend greatly on how well it can come together.
“They have come in and stepped up to the plate, and it will be interesting to see how well we fare,” Walton coach Matt Miller said. “If our players bring their ‘A’ game, we will be tough to play. If we don’t bring our ‘A’ game, anyone can beat us. If we play our game, we will be a force to be reckoned with.”
Unlike Walton, Harrison may have to do some more growing up than usual with many key players — including defender Chris Daley, attacker Will Green, midfielder Justin Evans and goalkeeper Reid Bass — having graduated.
But the Hoyas are still returning seven experienced players from last year’s team. Their strength is expected to be in the scoring department, with senior attackmen Regan Farmer and Clayton Sheasby and senior midfielder Griffin Smith returning. They’re also expecting help from junior midfielder Ben Huddleston and junior defenders Sam Lyons, Dakota Tatum and Austin Edenfield.
But Harrison will still have some holes to fill, with goalkeeping being one of them.
“I feel like our attack players, in Sheasby and Farmer, will give us a good chance to score a lot of goals this year,” Harrison coach Lee Rider said. “We have a lot of new faces on the team, and we lost a lot of starters from last year’s team, so the faster and grow up and the more confidence we build will determine how good we’ll be.”
Lassiter is also expecting to be in the mix once the AAAAA state tournament begins. The Trojans had a down year in 2011 after finishing with an 11-12 record and are on their third head coach in three years.
The Trojans appear young this season with a junior-laden squad, but the talent is there. Unlike their main competition, they have a returning goalkeeper in junior Ryan Smith they can build around. They also have a quick midfield unit led by senior Garrett Shank.
“Our biggest challenge of the season is ourselves,” new Lassiter coach Brendan Leezer said. “We need to focus on ourselves, rise above the issues (of last season) and to just go have fun. We play amazing lacrosse when we work together and are just having fun.”
Pope lost a few key components from last year’s team, which lost to Lambert in the Class A-AAAA state championship, but the Greyhounds have some reliable talents coming back. Senior midfielder Holland Frost and senior defender Daniel Maples will both be back after anchoring the team last season. Pope is also returning junior Brayton Ladella at attack.
Like Walton and Harrison, Pope is in search for a new goalkeeper after graduating Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Player of the Year Matt Sommerfeldt, not to mention a few key position players.
“A player of Matt’s caliber to replace is going to be difficult,” Pope coach Carl Pfaff said. “A lot of our success will come from us putting together a staff that developed our players and getting the team to buy into the team concept. There are so many intangibles, but our kids are focused every day at practice to give ourselves a chance.”
Riverwood and Westminster will present challenges to Pope in Area 2A-AAAA, but so will Kell and Sprayberry.
Kell is about to turn the corner after narrowly missing the playoffs last season. The Longhorns were the odd team out in a three-way tiebreaker with Sprayberry and Riverwood for two playoff spots.
Kell lost only two key players from last season and returned everyone else, including senior attackman Hunter Marshall, who scored 101 goals last season.
Sprayberry won’t be as experienced as it was a year ago, but it does have postseason experience and a large and talented junior class that can give the Yellow Jackets a boost.