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Lions face juggernaut Walton in playoffs

Over the past six years, no high school girls tennis team has been able to figure out how to beat Walton.

The Raiders have not only won the last six Class AAAAA state championships, they haven't even lost a single match in that stretch, a streak of 130 straight wins.

That is what Peachtree Ridge faces when it travels to east Cobb County to take on Walton in a state quarterfinal match Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.

But if there is one person currently in the girls high school tennis community who does know how to beat Walton, it is Lions coach Chrissie Bolt.

The last team to defeat the Raiders was Chattahoochee, which posted a win in the quarterfinals en route to the 2003 state title, and was coached by Bolt.

"Of course, they had beaten us the two years before that," Bolt pointed out. "So, I also know how to lose to them."

Still, Bolt can remind her team first hand that Walton (14-0 this season) is not invincible.

If nothing else, it has given the Lions something to talk about in practice over the past few days.

"It's kind of ironic, but it's kind of cool," said Lions No. 1 singles player Mary Jeremiah. "We didn't realize that until somebody brought it up to Bolt."

While Peachtree Ridge may not get much tangible benefit by that championship of '03 -- the lone blemish in Walton's run of eight titles in the last nine seasons -- the Lions do pose perhaps the biggest threat the Raiders have known since that loss to that Bolt-coached Chattahoochee team seven years ago.

Jeremiah (9-1 in the current high school season) comes into Tuesday's match at No. 2 in the most recent USTA Girls 18s state rankings.

Add in teammates Abigail Owens (13-0) and Jessica Northcutt (15-0), who are ranked No.s 5 and 8 respectively in the Girls 16s, and the Lions have a singles line-up every bit as impressive as Walton's.

In fact, add in the Raiders' trio of Emily Zabor (No. 11 in 18s), Maxie Weinberg (No. 30 in 16s) and Stephanie Falcon (No. 8 in 18s) - plus doubles teams like Peachtree Ridge's Taylor Cohen and Rachel Anderson and Walton's Amelia McIsaac and Claire Marshall -- and some of the top talent in Georgia and the entire Southeast will be on display Tuesday.

And even though it's been a long road through the season, the Lions have been well aware Walton would be standing in their way if they wanted to reach their goal of a state championship.

"We knew it would take a lot just to get to (Tuesday's quarterfinal match)," Bolt said. "But this is the match we've been looking forward to all season. We knew if we wanted to get to state, we'd have to go through Walton."

What makes Tuesday's match even more intriguing is that many of the players on both teams run in the same circles during USTA tournament tennis throughout the year.

So, bragging rights will also be on the line.

"We see each of them in a bunch of tournaments," Jeremiah said. "I've actually played doubles with Emily a lot. A lot of us are pretty good friends with each other.

"I'm also friends with a few players in (Walton's) Region (6-AAAAA). I have a friend who plays for Centennial who texted me the other day saying, 'I hope you beat them. I'm sick of them winning all the time.' It's kind of funny."