Walker’s girls tennis program could not ask for a better situation.
The Lady Wolverines will be setting sights on their second Class A private-school state title in three years with all seven of their starters coming back from the team’s runner-up finish in 2019.
Seniors Rilee White, Lindsey Riley, Brecca Stoll and Gabby Harwell, juniors Linden Patterson and Rhodes Reddick and sophomore Grace Harwell will all factor into the lineup somehow, but coach Andrea Barnett said she has yet to decide who would be playing what positions.
Many of the players were underclassmen when Walker beat Brookstone for the state championship two years ago in a four-hour thriller that came down to White at No. 1 singles. Last year, however, it was Brookstone which got the last laugh, beating Walker 3-1.
The 2020 season has been on the minds of the players since last fall and they are determined to return to the championship match, regardless of it is Brookstone or someone else awaiting them.
“They’ve been training on their own through the offseason in anticipation for the spring tennis season,” Barnett said. “We are returning all seven players from last year along with four seniors, so motivation is extremely high to have a great season and find our way back to the state final in Rome. We know that, in order to do that, we have to stay focused throughout the season.”
Even with Walker’s lineup not yet set, the experience is there at both singles and doubles.
The Lady Wolverines’ doubles teams thrived last season, despite them using different lineups throughout the year, and they do not expect that to change. However, with the players having tournament experience, the singles lineup is expecting to be strong.
“The goal is to find the best lineup we can in order to be successful during the postseason,” Barnett said.
Walker could get resistance from Area 4A rival Mount Paran Christian. Not only did the Lady Eagles win the area championship last season, they advanced to the state semifinals before losing 3-2 to Brookstone.
This year’s Mount Paran team is returning a solid lineup as well, led by junior Emma Brogan and freshmen Emma Bethel at singles.
In Class AAAAAAA, Walton is gunning for its 15th state championship crown in the last 17 years. That included a streak of eight straight titles from 2004-11, and a 158-match winning streak.
After coming up short in the state quarterfinals in 2012 with a freshman-laden team, Walton bounced back to win six straight titles before falling to Milton in the semifinals last year.
The Lady Raiders are eager to start a new championship streak, but there might be challenges with seven of the 12 players on the roster being freshmen.
“It’s going to be an interesting year with all the new kids,” Walton coach Anthony Foti said. “I’ve never had this young of a team. It’s the youngest team I’ve ever coached, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. They are good players and nice kids.”
As of now, four freshmen are projected to start, with three playing singles.
Grace Keller, ranked No. 7 in the state in her age group according to the Tennis Recruiting Network, is tabbed to start at No. 1. Alex Alterman and Catherine Dierker could also get the starting nods at either No. 2 or No. 3.
Fellow freshman Amala Arun is competing for either a singles or doubles position alongside seniors Lauren Kadow and Samantha Cohen.
Kell has also played for a state championship each of the last two seasons, falling to Chamblee both times for the Class AAAAA crown.
This time, the Lady Longhorns will have to make do without Emily Dearing, who graduated after being a reliable No. 2 singles player for the majority of her career. Nicole Abel, the Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Player of the Year last season, left the team to focus on her personal career.
Still, the Lady Longhorns still have a core of solid players to carry them this year.
Pauline Katsoudas and Alex Rapplean are back after playing No. 1 doubles last year, but they could be elevated to singles to fill the void left by Abel and Dearing. Samantha Norman is expected to factor into the singles lineup after playing No. 3 last season.