While Walton lost a lot of talent from last year’s state championship team, Maggie Connolly returned for the 2018 season, and she has been one of the contributors in the Lady Raiders’ march to the Class AAAAAAA state semifinals. Walton will host Milton today for the chance to continue its pursuit of a sixth straight state title.

The Kell and Walton girls tennis teams know they can be just as successful with revamped lineups.

Kell will have a chance to return to the Class AAAAA state championship match for the second time in the last three years. The Lady Longhorns just missed making it to the finals last year, despite having such high expectations. They came up short against Chamblee with an experienced lineup, after enjoying an undefeated season up to that point.

Only Flowery Branch, which Kell will host Friday, stands in the way of a trip to the state finals May 12 in Rome.

“I’m feeling pretty confident,” Kell coach Michael Chasteen said. “I feel we’ve been peaking since the region tournament up until now.”

Even after losing nearly half their starting lineup to graduation, Kell seems to be peaking at the right time with a core of younger players.

A couple of key changes in the lineup has sparked the Lady Longhorns this season.

Anabelle Colmenares moved from singles to No. 1 doubles, where she has flourished with partner Alex Rapplean. Also, freshman Nicole Abel has excelled at No. 1 singles, when many presumed that junior Emily Dearing would move up the ladder to replace her older sister, Samantha, who graduated and is now playing at Reinhardt.

Instead, Emily Dearing embraced her role at No. 2 singles and has not lost a set since Region 7AAAAA play began in late February.

“It could be a touchy subject having a freshman challenge you, but it hasn’t been,” Chasteen said. “Everyone supports each other.”

Walton continues to do what it has done for many years, even with a singles lineup of three first-year starters. In an attempt to secure their sixth straight state championship, the Lady Raiders will look to Samantha Buyckx, Noelle Mauro and Lauren Kadow as they host Milton today.

Like Colmenares, Walton’s Maggie Connolly has transitioned from singles to No. 1 doubles and has meshed well with Avery Oppenheim.

Walton played Milton earlier this season, and Lady Raiders coach Anthony Foti said the Lady Eagles have a stacked lineup. He noted that his players will need to be on the top of their games, which has yet to be an issue this season.

 “The kids are playing well so far,” Foti said. “Everybody has played well. We haven’t lost a line yet, and that’s good.”

The Walker girls, who have played their way into the Class A private-school semifinals in the final season of coach Jan Steffen’s 37-year tenure, will host Athens Academy today.

The Lady Wolverines, led by singles standouts Rilee White, Landi White and Linden Patterson, are looking to give Steffen an eighth state championship to end her career.

“The girls want it,” Steffen said. The last three seasons, we got bumped out in the semifinals, and (today) is a big test. Athens Academy is pretty strong, so we’ll see.”

Walton is the only Cobb County boys survivor after Lassiter was upset by South Forsyth in the Class AAAAAAA state quarterfinals. The Raiders came through with a 3-2 win at North Gwinnett and will play at Milton early next week.

Both doubles teams came through with a pair of three-setters to help Walton beat North Gwinnett. Euros Ciric and David Phillips won the deciding point 6-2, 6-7, 7-6 at No. 1 doubles, while Connor Murphy and Alex Helms rallied to win 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 at No. 2.


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