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The State Tournament

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15 and 0. That’s my son’s high school team’s dual match record this season. It includes the regular season, regional playoffs, and, now, the first two rounds of the state tournament. The Walton Raiders are undefeated. So far.

Back in January, during team tryouts, my son boldly announced to his coach and the other guys that he thought they could go ALL THE WAY this season. The State Championship: that was the goal. The Walton girls team has won State 13 of the last 15 years. It’s old news for them. But our boys haven’t won a state ring since 2002. It’s long overdue.

High school tennis gets kind of a bad rap around Atlanta. So many of the top tournament kids opt out, either because they’re doing home/virtual school or because they just don’t see the value in it. My own son chose not to play for Walton his sophomore and junior years because he felt it interfered with his training and competition schedule. I get it. But, boy, am I happy he decided to play this year.

During tryouts, the team looked a bit iffy. A few of Walton’s top players didn’t come out. They had decided to focus on their USTA rankings to help with college recruiting just as my son had done the last two years. (Thankfully, Universal Tennis is now including high school tennis results which should help these teams get the tournament kids.) But my son was committed to playing – he had given Coach Evans his word – and he was also committed to taking the State’s highest honor. He reached out to those top guys and explained to them why they needed to play for their school. He told them that winning the Championship was within their reach if and only if they all worked together to get there. He even went so far as to talk to some of the parents. I guess my son got some of my litigator-husband’s negotiating skills because all the boys signed on to play. Walton was poised to make some real noise this season.

Coach Evans has stayed pretty quiet about winning State. The boys and the parents have talked about it, but Coach just keeps saying, “One match at a time.” As the season progressed and the Raiders hadn’t lost a match, Coach Evans stuck to his mantra: “One match at a time.” Even after the guys won the Region 5 title a couple of weeks ago, Coach never changed his approach. “The season starts now,” he announced to the boys. “These next 5 matches are our season. One at a time.”

The next 10 days are Crunch Time. Really, it starts tomorrow afternoon with what could prove to be the Raiders’ toughest challenge of the season. The boys will face another suburban Atlanta team in the quarterfinals, Chattahoochee High School, that is loaded with high-level tournament players. The Cougars only lost one region match and one out-of-region match during the regular season, both when they were missing starting players. Walton, on the other hand, is so deep that our boys were able to clinch the Region title 3-0 even without 3 of our starters including our #1 and #2 singles and one of our #2 doubles. This is a pretty special team.

Whatever happens from this point forward, I think the guys are feeling pretty good about their season. Of course, they are still hungry for that State Title and will fight tooth and nail to win it. During my son’s Freshman year, the Raiders lost in the Semis of the State Tournament. It was a big disappointment, especially for that year’s Seniors. This year’s 4 Seniors, all in the starting lineup, definitely don’t want to see a repeat of their Freshman season. They have that Championship Trophy in their sights and aren’t going to be satisfied until they can put it in the Walton trophy case.

I’ll post an update after tomorrow’s match. Good luck to all our kids playing for their high school teams and GO RAIDERS!

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