Tennis blog: Walton-Lambert headlines championship card

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The Walton girls want their state tennis trophy back.

For the last two years the prize has been missing from the school’s trophy case – the Raiders lost to Milton in the semifinals in 2019 and COVID shut down spring sports a year ago.

Now the Raiders will face Lambert, the 2019 champion, in the final of the Class 7A tournament. It is part of tennis-palooza at the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College on Saturday, an all-day event that will determine the state champions in the GHSA’s 16 different classifications. The girls finals begin at 9 a.m. and all boys finals start at 1 p.m.

Walton has won 20 state championships. The Raiders won six straight from 2013-2018 after taking 10 in a row from 2001-20101. They have won a region championship each year since 1990.

Walton did not face Lambert during the regular season, but there is history there. Walton beat Lambert 3-2 in the 2018 state championship. The two schools have not played since.

This has been a remarkable season, even by Walton standards. The Raiders are undefeated and have been challenged only once, a 3-2 regular-season win over mighty Westminster. They’ve lost only one other individual match, that in a 4-1 victory over North Atlanta. Otherwise, it’s been a string of 5-0 and 3-0 wins. Walton is 12-0 in the state playoffs.

“This is a whole new experience for this team,” Walton coach Anthony Foti said. “None of them have been to the state championship. I told them, to enjoy it, enjoy the experience. It’s very cool. Not everybody gets to play for a state championship.”

Lambert has been equally dominant. The Longhorns powered through the Region 7-7A tournament and have won each of their four state playoff series 3-0.

“Not only are these girls fantastic tennis players, they’re great people. They act the way they’re supposed to act. You don’t have to worry about them,” Lambert coach Stephen Pate said. “We won two matches on a double fault and the girls were very subdued. I told them I thought they’d be celebrating more and they said, ‘Coach, we didn’t want to rub it in their face.’ So they celebrated off the court. That’s what I’m talking about.”

The key match could be at No. 1 singles, where Lambert’s Brooke Despriet, who has signed with the University if the South, will go against Walton’s high-powered freshman Hayden Mulberry, who has hardly lost a set all year.

No. 2 singles features Lambert freshman Emily Baek vs. Walton sophomore Grace Keller, while Lambert’s Peyton Bailey will face Walton sophomore Amala Arun at No. 3.

Lambert’s No. 1 doubles team of Katie Lewis and Nina Zhao will meet Walton’s Catherine Dierker and Alex Alterman. The No. 2 doubles match has Walton’s Natalie Kirka and Mary Ashley Jacoppo vs. Lambert’s Sydney Waters and Riley Abellana.

Westminster boys back in the picture

It’s been an interminable four years since the Westminster boys have won a state championship. If the Wildcats do it this year, it will be on the backs of one of coach Ralph Geeza’s youngest rosters. There isn’t a senior in the starting lineup.

“It’s a tremendous group of freshmen and sophomores who are leading the way,” said Geeza, who starts two freshman, three sophomores and two juniors.

Westminster’s top two singles players are freshmen – No. 1 Charlie Burdell and his brother Jack, who plays No. 2 singles. Sophomore Evan Le is at No. 3. The No. 1 doubles team is made up of juniors Noah Turbes and Alex Egoavil, with the No. 2 team made up of sophomore George Mattie and Kanav Kakkar.

Westminster will play Greater Atlanta Christian for the championship. It will be the third meeting between the two teams, with Westminster winning during the regular season and in the Region 5 3A final.

Four finals feature same schools

Four classifications feature the same schools competing in the boys and girls final – Cambridge vs. Johns Creek in Class 6A, North Oconee vs. Marist in Class 4A, Westminster vs. Greater Atlanta Christian in Class 3A, and rivals Pace Academy vs. Lovett in Class 2A.

Marist boys coach Tommy Marshall has announced his retirement at the end of the season. The War Eagles have won nine boys state championships since 2000, the most recent in 2017, and 17 overall.

The Marist girls are going for their 25th state title. They won it all in 2019, which snapped a four-year stretch without a championship.

Saturday’s championship schedule

Class 7A: Boys -- North Gwinnett vs. Lambert; Girls -- Walton vs. Lambert

Class 6A: Boys -- Cambridge vs. Johns Creek; Girls -- Johns Creek vs. Cambridge.

Class 5A: Boys -- Woodward Academy vs. Grady; Girls -- McIntosh vs. Northview.

Class 4A: Boys -- North Oconee vs. Marist; Girls -- North Oconee vs. Marist.

Class 3A: Boys -- Westminster vs. Greater Atlanta Christian; Girls -- Westminster vs. Greater Atlanta Christian.

Class 2A: Boys -- Pace Academy vs. Lovett; Girls -- Pace Academy vs. Lovett.

Class A Public: Boys -- Screven County vs. Seminole County; Girls -- Irwin County vs. Telfair County.

Class A Private: Boys -- Wesleyan vs. Stratford Academy; Girls -- Mount Paran vs. First Presbyterian.

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