Hayden Mulberry had a year to remember.
As a freshman, she led Walton’s girls tennis team to victory in the Class AAAAAAA state championship — the program’s 21st title overall and the 17th in the last 19 seasons.
For her efforts this season, Mulberry is the 2021 Cobb County Girls Tennis Player of the Year.
“I was so excited (to win the award),” Mulberry said, “especially because I am a freshman and it is going to be something I’m always going to remember.”
Walton coach Anthony Foti had nothing but praise to give Mulberry.
“She’s totally deserving,” Foti said. “She’s just unbelievably talented. She works really hard, and she understands how to play tennis really well. She’s just an overall phenomenal player. She’s probably the best player I’ve ever coached talent-wise.”
Foti said Mulberry’s biggest strengths are her composure and athleticism.
“I would say her biggest strength is that she is very even-keeled,” Foti said. “She never gets overconfident. She’s just dialed-in throughout an entire match. She picks out her opponents’ weaknesses and takes advantage of them. She’s got a lot of good shots, (and) she’s fast and moves really well.”
Foti also noted Mulberry’s good sportsmanship.
“She was never a kid you had to worry about being obnoxious, or not being a good sport,” Foti said. “She was classy, sweet and polite. She did everything exactly how it should be done.”
Mulberry was Foti’s go-to athlete, playing No. 1 singles in 14 of Walton’s 18 matches.
Out of the 14 matches she played in, Mulberry only lost one set. It was against Kate Sharabura, a senior from North Atlanta who was a Georgia Tech signee. Mulberry recalled the victory as her favorite memory of the season.
“I played this senior and she was ranked higher than me,” Mulberry said. “I came back to beat her in the third set.”
Mulberry’s youth proved to be a prize to Foti and the Walton tennis program, and Foti looks forward to the next three years with her.
“She was obviously the best player on the team, but she was also somebody who kind of demonstrated leadership qualities,” Foti said. “And she set a good example of how you want kids to be on the court. That’s something I’m looking forward to seeing more and more.”
Mulberry is currently ranked No. 2 in the state of Georgia, and she has hopes to play collegiately.
“I want to go somewhere big, like D-I,” Mulberry said. “I definitely want to go somewhere where I can get a scholarship.”