MARIETTA — Having a lineup of mostly new starters still produced the same end result for Walton’s volleyball program.
For the fifth straight season, the Lady Raiders won the state championship, beating east Cobb and Region 4AAAAAAA rival Lassiter 25-18, 25-17, 25-12 on Saturday at Marietta High School.
It marked the second time Walton has won five consecutive state titles, following its previous run of 1998-2002. The Lady Raiders also went on a four-year state title streak from 2010-13.
Even with different players taking swings Saturday, Walton still looked like the Walton of old that benefits from lengthy service runs to take command while displaying a power offense.
“I could not be more proud,” Walton coach Suzanne Fitzgerald said. “This team, all season long, has been about each other and not one person receiving any sort of credit.”
With outside and middle hitters Gabby Gonzales (Ohio State), Meghan Froemming (Georgia), Reilly McNeill (Ohio State), Riley Spurlin (Rollins) and Jordan Rush (Palm Beach Atlantic) having graduated, new faces picked up where they left off.
Phoebe Awoleye led Walton (32-8) with 10 kills and was in on two blocks Saturday. Sydney Barrett and Mary Neal each finished with eight kills, while Katie Strickland and Chandler Parker contributed with six apiece with Strickland adding a block.
Walton was not quite as dominant as it was a year ago, but it was close. The Lady Raiders still have not lost to an in-state opponent since 2014.
And with Lassiter only one of two metro-Atlanta teams to have gotten a set off of Walton this year, the Lady Trojans were disappointed for not giving Walton more of a fight.
“They’re four-time defending state champions (coming in), and they’ve been here, but that’s no excuse,” Lassiter coach Greg Hodge said. “We didn’t play our best game. Some of that is attributed to them putting pressure on us. We can’t win if we don’t play our best game against them.”
It was Walton which started shaky due to nerves in the first two sets, and Lassiter did not do enough to take advantage. A pair of hitting errors by Walton, a serve-receive blunder and kills from Lassiter’s Claire Parsons and Kate Kudlac put the Lady Trojans ahead 5-0 in the first set.
Fitzgerald had to call timeout three points into the match.
“We’ve been working all season, because we’re a new group, to respond aggressively as opposed to carefully,” Fitzgerald said. “When they get into that mindset of fighting for each other, they’re pretty hard to stop.”
Walton became hard to stop once it trimmed Lassiter’s lead to 6-4 in the first set. A six-point service run on Madison Morey’s serve was what the Lady Raiders needed to get out in front. Back-to-back Neal kills and a combined block from Awoleye and Neal started the run.
Walton then got error-prone, allowing Lassiter to tie the set at 10-all, but after Neal hit a kill on the first pass, the Lady Raiders never trailed.
A few short service spurts helped increase the Walton lead before another Neal kill put the Lady Raiders safely ahead 23-17.
Lassiter came out with energy to start the second set and took a 5-2 lead. Parsons got more involved offensively, with four of her eight kills coming in the second set.
Like the previous set, Walton worked its way back and used another run on Catherine Chaney’s serve to take a 9-6 lead. Lassiter was able to get within one at 11-10 on a Rebecca Watkins kill before the Lady Raiders took over.
A serve-receive error from Lassiter and a Morey ace after the Lady Trojans left the middle of the floor open put the Lady Raiders ahead 15-11, and they never looked back.
The third set was all Walton. Another run highlighted by another Morey ace gave the Lady Raiders a 6-1 lead. Later, Cheney took over on serve and stretched the lead to 14-4, and Lassiter struggled to keep up.
“We had so much energy (in the third set) and were pumped as a team,” said Morey, who tied Emery Dupes with three aces. “All of us got into the mindset to push ourselves and be better because we knew we could do better.”
For Lassiter, Watkins tied Parsons with eight kills. Kudlac finished with six, and Katie Bochniak dished out 27 assists.
Ashlyn Goolsby provided 32 assists for Walton.