Taxes, pollen and the Walton girls tennis team winning a state title - three undeniable rites of Spring it seems. Last week the Lady Raiders, coached by Roberta Manheim and led by Emily Zabor, one of nine seniors, won its 147th straight match and its eighth straight state title. The program set the Georgia high school sports record for consecutive game/match winning streak earlier this year and showed no signs all season of letting that streak come to an end. The closest any opponent came was Peachtree Ridge in the early rounds of the playoffs, but Walton still claimed a 3-1 match win.
Coach Manheim recently spoke about the streak, calling it surreal. “I can say we haven’t lost a match in eight years, but I’m not sure the full impact is there.” Manheim says she recently received an email from former Raider Cameron Ellis that she shared with the team. “Cameron graduated four years ago and is getting ready to graduate (from UGA) having had an extremely successful career.” Ellis was a freshman who helped Walton start the streak eight years ago. “Cameron’s email is what it’s all about for me,” revealed Manheim. “To make a positive impact and help create memories for these girls that will last a lifetime.”
And perhaps that is why Walton is so successful: the girls aren’t playing against an opponent but rather for themselves and with a theme that Manheim does her best to drive home every year.
“Before every match I say the same thing to them, ‘One point at a time, one game at a time, one set at a time, one match at a time,’ and that’s what we’ve done, 147 times.”
The Lady Raiders also pick themselves up in the rare cases they find themselves down. Against Peachtree Ridge in the third round, the Lions roared out to an early lead and led several matches before Walton rallied. Zabor, the No. 1 singles player for Walton, faced the prospect of losing to Peachtree Ridge’s No. 1 but rallied and took a 6-0, 7-6 victory by digging deep.
“Peachtree Ridge was our biggest challenge this year and last,” admitted Manheim. “We knew it was going to be difficult going there, and it was. I always tell the girls that what has happened before doesn’t matter, what is ahead makes no difference, all that is important is what is in front of them right then.”
Zabor and the Lady Raiders focused in on the match and truly nothing else mattered.
“If they do what they can do and have done over the last four years, the record will take care of itself, and that’s exactly what they did,” said Manheim of the emotional win over Peachtree Ridge and the subsequent title clinched a few days later.
Zabor is one of nine seniors who will depart, leaving Manheim in a familiar position that she faced four years ago.
“Seven seniors graduated (four years ago) and everyone thought the streak would end then,” said Manheim. “Here we are four years later with nine seniors graduating.”
Walton will lose all seven of its starters and will return two rising juniors and one rising sophomore from the current roster, but Manheim realizes that the support system will still be in place come next season.
“The parents, the girls, the people who I have had the privilege to work with along the way are what make it all worthwhile. If it weren’t for them, there would be no streak.”
The coach also credits the principal, administration and the community for supporting the team over the last eight years. “There is a certain level of respect at Walton for the accomplishment. I think it’s prestigious to be a part of the girls tennis team.”
Manheim, despite having never lost as a coach, deflects all credit for the streak and instead heaps the praise onto her present and past players.
“I am most definitely going to miss these seniors and their parents,” said Manheim. “They have been not only amazing athletes and individuals, but so supportive of me and the program. The streak really belongs to them.”
What will the future hold for the Walton girls tennis program? Will the streak continue? Can Manheim rebuild/reload on the fly to make it to win No. 148 and eventually get to title No. 9 in a row?
“While the eight state championships are big, the tennis program at Walton has always been successful,” said Manheim. “There were state championships before I started coaching and there will be many more when I leave, but the undefeated record is something that no other team in any other sport has accomplished.”
Manheim has never lost as a coach and if I were a betting man, I wouldn’t wager against her any time soon. She has proven she can turn out a winner year after year, with freshmen starting or with seniors dominating. A new chapter will start in 2012 but expect the resolution to read just the same as the past eight.