The Rome Tennis Center at Berry College made a grand debut on Saturday, accommodating 80 total lines of GHSA state championship matches, and crowning six first-time champions to cap an incredibly competitive 2018 season.
In Class AAAAAAA, the Walton girls had swept their way through the bracket to reach the finals, and with 19 previous state titles, had rarely ran into such an intensely, important set like they did Saturday with their No. 2 singles line. With the other four lines drawing a 2-2 tie, the Class 7A state title came down to a 3-set battle between Walton’s Noelle Mauro and Lambert’s Brooke Despriet. Mauro, a junior and first-year Raider from Florida, rallied in front a riveted crowd and clinched the third set 6-4 to crown the Lady Raiders state champs for a 20th time.
“I knew I had to stay within my points and stay positive,” said Mauro. “I had my teammates cheering for me the whole time, so that helped a ton, especially when I was down in the last set. It means a lot to celebrate a 20th state title, especially because I am new this year.”
Walton head coach Anthony Foti, who took over the program a year ago, and saw a more experienced Raider team sweep North Gwinnett for the title, was proud of his young squad.
“We knew we were a very young team,” explained Foti. “Only two of our girls had ever played in a state championship before, because we graduated so many players last year. So this is a first-ever big-time event for a lot of them and they came up so strong. Noelle gutted it out and I’m so proud of her. …Since I started coaching, this was probably the most entertaining and stressful match I’ve been a part of. It was great. All credit to Lambert, they were fantastic and are such a great team. It always means more when you have to beat a great team.”
In the boys Class 7A championship, South Forsyth clinched its first-ever state title with a 3-1 victory over Walton. The Johns Creek boys swept region rival Dunwoody (3-0) in the boys Class 6A championship and captured its first state title since 2012, and third all time. The Northview girls held off Region 7 Cambridge 3-2 in the 6A final for their first-ever state crown.
In Class 5A, the Chamblee girls defended their first-ever title with a hard-fought 3-2 win over Kell. Buford’s Luke Davidson and Flowery Branch freshman Jack Thomas battled in a third set tiebreaker, but Thomas prevailed, giving the Falcons their first state title. North Oconee swept the Class 4A championships clean; the Lady Titans topped Columbus (3-0) for a third straight title and the boys took home their first-ever with a 3-0 win over Blessed Trinity.
Westminster topped Lovett 3-0 for the girls Class 3A title, but fell 3-2 to the Lions on the boys side. The Bleckley County girls held off Berrien 3-2 in Class 2A and Benedictine swept the Royals 3-0 in the boys championship.
The Irwin County boys repeated with a 3-0 win over Telfair County in the boys Class A-Public championship and the Trion girls topped Taylor County 3-2 for their program’s first. In Class A-Private, the Walker girls defeated Brookstone 3-2 for their eighth state title and Stratford Academy topped Paideia for its third all-time, and third in four years.