MARIETTA - "I can breathe now."
That was Walton girls tennis coach Roberta Manheim's reaction after the Raiders came from behind to win their 97th consecutive match 3-2 over Brookwood on Tuesday in the Class AAAAA state quarterfinals.
Walton defeated the Broncos in last year's state championship match, and with Brookwood returning key players this year and Walton losing most of its stars, this was a highly anticipated playoff battle for both teams.
Senior Ashley Lawrence won 6-0, 6-1 over Lindsey Peyton at No. 3 singles for the deciding point but many saw that coming. It was freshmen Kayla Brady and Maxie Weinberg at No. 2 doubles that saved Walton.
They came from behind to beat Jordan Johnston and Katie Williams 5-7, 6-0, 6-3 to clinch Walton's second point.
"We've been waiting for this day and were very excited about it, but we're relieved to get it over with," said Emily Zabor, who won 6-2, 6-2 at No. 1 doubles with Stephanie Falcon over Nicole Hernandez and Haley Benson to keep the Raiders in it. "Brookwood is a good team. I was nervous and we all had to step up our games."
Manheim wasn't the only breathless Walton spectator early in the match after Elizabeth Kilborn and Emily Lauten lost convincingly at No. 1 and No. 2 singles to Courtney McLane and Dana Guentert and Brady and Weinberg were down a set.
But the Walton duo rolled to a 6-0 win in the second set and then built a 3-0 lead in the third.
With Lawrence cruising at No. 3 singles on the next court, the freshman tandem knew the entire match depended on their outcome. The pressure mounted when Brookwood won three games off their serve to make the third set competitive.
Brady and Weinberg struggled on serve late in the third set but had no difficulty breaking to stay ahead. The duo broke Brookwood's serve at love for a 5-2 lead and at 15 to win the match, ending it on a topspin lob winner by Brady.
The outcome was now up to Lawrence, who was leading 6-0, 1-0 and showed no signs of slowing down. Peyton changed her shots and the pace in the second set but to no avail.
It wasn't a good day for Kilborn and Lauten at No. 1 and No. 2 singles. Kilborn dropped a 6-4, 6-1 decision to McLane, and Guentert was perfect against Lauten, winning 6-0, 6-0.
Kilborn dictated many points in the first set against McLane, but missed too many routine shots and was unable to recover in the second. Lauten was simply outplayed by Guentert in her first loss of the year.