The Walton boys soccer program has long been one of the top soccer programs in Cobb County, having only failed to qualify for the state playoffs once in the past 10 years.
At the beginning of the 2021 season, the Raiders started off slow as wins were hard to come by. They had a 0-3-1 record in non-region play, with a difficult Region 3AAAAAAA to follow.
Walton coach Bruce Wade did not let the rocky start faze him.
He led the Raiders on a five-game winning streak, defeating every Region 3AAAAAAA team in the process. The Raiders finished the season 11-7-2 and won the region with a 9-1 record, giving up just seven goals in their 10 region games.
Walton did not give up a goal in the first two rounds of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs — beating Newnan 5-0 and Brookwood 3-0 — though the run ended in the quarterfinals where they lost 2-0 against eventual state runner-up Lambert.
For his effort, Wade was selected as the 2021 Cobb County Boys Soccer Coach of the Year.
Wade, who has been coaching at Walton since beginning a nine-year run as girls coach in 2003, succeeded longtime coach Bucky Boozer with boys team in 2012. During his tenure, Wade has led the Raiders to five region titles, five trips to the state quarterfinals and a berth in the semifinals in 2017.
Although the beginning of this season was rough, the games were spent preparing for the future, and Wade made sure to challenge his players early to get them ready for the road ahead.
“Normally, the non-region games we play are really tough,” he said, “so those teams that we play are designed to challenge us so, when we do reach region play, we’ve been challenged, we’ve been there.”
During the non-region games, Wade utilized a good amount of substitutions to pinpoint which players to use in different situations down the line.
“I am a bit more liberal with my substitutions in those games. I like giving players a chance to prove themselves,” he said, “Sometimes, you will give up a goal or two, that is a part of the process.”
What made Walton’s 2021 season even more impressive was that it was full of the unknown. It was its first season in a new region, plus the team was coming off having the 2020 season shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There was a lot of homework up that front,” Wade said.
Walton graduated 13 seniors from its 2021 team, but Wade said he was excited about the youth of his program.
“This past year, I had one junior, three sophomores and a freshman start,” he said, “I have a good nucleus of experience in my young players.”