One for the Books

The 2019-20 Walton Raiders finished with a winning season, reached the region championship, and made the state playoffs yet again in Coach Abney’s third season. The boys did face adversity, but they pushed through, breaking dry spells and Walton Basketball records.

The boys opened the season very strong, rushing out to a 9-2 start. They played smash mouth basketball, attacking the basket, pushing the action in transition, and playing a tight man-to-man defense. One of the keys to attacking the basket was keeping defenders backpedaling and making them match their speed, turning games into track meets rather than basketball games. The leads would often balloon so high that the game would be in hand by halftime. Their most lopsided margin of victory was a 77-36 win over Dunwoody early in the year, apparent from the opening tip that the Wildcats were no match for the Raiders.

After Christmas break, many teams learned to adjust to the fast style of play and, at the start of region play, the Raiders were 10-8. The team played in one of the toughest regions in the state this year, deep with well-coached teams and star players. With their backs against the wall, the Raiders had to create a new adaptable offensive strategy. Though the team has a deep arsenal of shooters, it was rare that the Raiders operated in space through their first 18, where they often ran pick and rolls to get to the basket. The Raiders adapted to a motion offense, with less screens and more passing, cutting, and shooting from beyond the arc. Even in a very tough region where no games could be taken off, the Raiders split the region games, going 5-5. Two of the biggest challenges through the regular season were the Cherokee Warriors and the Etowah Eagles, who handed the Raiders four of their regular season region losses. Ahead of the region tournament, the Raiders knew that both their season and their team would be tested.

The Raider run in the region tournament stands out as a remarkable moment in this school year for the Walton community. In the first region tournament game hosted at Walton in decades, the Raiders faced off against the Lassiter Trojans. In front of a packed house, the Raiders came out firing, scoring the first 24 points of the game and silencing the Trojan opposition. It was the newfound shooting success of the Raiders that took them out to this start, as they made six 3 pointers within minutes of the tipoff. From there the Raiders kept their foot on the gas pedal, smothering the Trojans on defense and making it tough to get any shot. The Raiders walked away victorious, 64-44, and clinched their third straight state playoff berth under Coach Abney

The Raiders then matched up with the Etowah Eagles in the region semifinals two days later. With nerves at an all-time high, Coach Abney told the team in the locker room before the game, “It is very hard to beat a team three times in this sport. In that Etowah locker room, that coach is having to convince them that they can win this game, that they are more talented then you. I don’t think they can.” In a back and forth defensive game that had several hundred fans on their feet, the game came down to just a few plays. With the score tied at 34, the Raiders had the ball. They came down the court and took an open jump shot, but missed. However, the 6’5” freshman Pearce Spurlin picked that moment to come down the lane and soar in for the rebound, wrestling the ball away from a Etowah defender and scoring the go ahead layup. The Eagles did not go down without a fight, scoring the next two baskets to give them a two-point lead with just seconds left. Had it not been for the heroics of Luka Avaliani, the Eagles would have found themselves in the region championship. Avaliani got the ball with just 8 seconds left, driving the lane and finishing with a layup that would send the game into overtime. It was there that the Raiders won the game and sent themselves to their first region championship in over ten years and clinched their first home state playoff games in decades. Despite losing in the region championship to the Cherokee Warriors, the Raiders delivered one of the most exciting runs in Walton Athletics this year.

The Raiders had many standouts on the court this year that lead them to success, beginning with the 1st team all-region point guard Luka Avaliani. Luka, named Team MVP, took a big step from his sophomore season to his junior season, seeing the court much better and evolving as a distributor of the ball. Luka also showed his passion for the game and willingness to improve as, throughout the year, he corrected missteps and, in the end, became a force for other teams. Avaliani was also the primary scorer for the Raiders in crunch time, making multiple clutch shots, including a buzzer beating game winner vs. Hillgrove. 

David Sickles played his last season in a Walton basketball uniform this year and stepped up in several ways. Early in his career, David cracked the varsity roster, getting playing time as a freshman. David has always been a fun, confident, fan favorite sharpshooter, but this year he took accountability as the team leader in the locker room. Many of his teammates looked up to him and said that the season would not be the same without him. David brought an energy in the huddle and in the locker room, on the offensive and defensive ends, that sparked the whole team. His highlight of the season was when he clinched the game for the Raiders at the free throw line vs. Etowah in overtime to send the Raiders to the region championship. 

Cole Morris was another senior for the Raiders this year who took massive steps from his junior year. In his first full year as a starter, Morris was a dominant force down low, swatting away shots, grabbing rebounds, and yes, even dunking over a Lassiter Trojan or two. The team often looked to force the ball into Cole, who would either take it up, face up for a jump shot, or even swing the ball out to the perimeter. Morris also helped mentor two young big men this year, Jonathon Awolyee and Pearce Spurlin, who both say that Cole helped them improve this year on the court as players. 

Forward Toni Adenupe also finished his career for the Raiders this year. The high-flying forward has always been fun to watch and saved his best for last, especially in the post-season tournament. It was apparent at times this year that no one on the court was as quick or strong as Adneupe, and he got to the lane whenever he wanted. More importantly, Toni bought into the system, diving on loose balls and being one of the more vocal players on defense. Toni has taken huge steps forward in his game since his freshman year and says that Coach Abney helped him with that: “He helped me realize what hard work is, always pushing for more, trying to get me to be my best.” 

Carson Adler and Dylan Pumpian distinguished themselves this year. Carson earned significant playing time this year, as he became an all-around player: shooting, driving, defending, and much more. He was the energizer for the team this year, always making a big shot when needed, and not afraid to shoot an arrow in the face of an opposing student section. Dylan was instrumental in the change this year for the Raiders, becoming one of the Raiders primary scoring options and proving his offensive arsenal at the basket, midrange, and beyond the arc.

With the season at its end, the Walton community thanks David, Cole, and Toni for their hard work and dedication to Walton Basketball. And thank you to the 2019-2020 Raiders, a team that has made its mark on Raider Basketball history.

Varsity Boys

Pieces of the Puzzle

On Sunday, March 8, the Walton Lady Raiders marked the end of the 2019-20 season, the third under Coach Matt Kelterborn, with their Awards Banquet. The team finished 8-18 on the season, with a 4-6 record in region. Despite those numbers, the girls made strong progress and consistently got better as the year progressed. 

The girls improved their intensity just as region play began at the end of November. Moving through the season, the girls pieced together pieces of their “puzzle” and, by the end, found their identity as a team. One of the improvements in the second half of the season was a press that Coach Kelterborn implemented. The press would pressure opponents as soon as the ball was inbounded and force them to quickly pass up the court, where a Raider defender would be waiting to intercept the pass and start a fast break. The team debuted the press in their game vs. Apalachee High School in the Pope Holiday Classic and ran away with the game 54-16. From there, the Raider girls blitzed many more teams by forcing turnovers and converting their fast break opportunities into points.

The girls played their best game of the season against the crosstown rival Lassiter Trojans. In the inaugural game in Lassiter’s new gym, the Raider girls stole the show, dominating the Trojans 65-37. The Lady Raiders found another piece to their puzzle in this game, where they made 8 three-point shots. Many times, on the back end of the season, the girls would be in a lull in the half court setting but would find an open player on the wing and make a three-point shot to end the dry spell. On nights when they were hot from outside the arc, the other team could find themselves down by 20 or 30 points in a hurry.

As teams in high school do though, some teams were able to adapt to these strategies, playing tougher defense on the perimeter, making it harder to get open shots, and not succumbing to the press. In the final games of the season, the Lady Raiders were determined to play united against the teams that were on to them. They would drive to the basket and make the extra pass to a crashing big or an open shooter, fight for offensive rebounds, communicate on defense, fight over screens, and much more.

In their final regular season game of the year, it was clear how far the team had come. The Lady Raiders traveled to Woodstock High School with region tournament seeding on the line. The team had lost to Woodstock 73-35 earlier in the season, and just 10 days before, had lost to Cherokee 56-31. With their backs against the walls, the girls fought until the very end, making unselfish plays and setting their own terms. Despite a 55-62 loss, the girls had Woodstock on the ropes the entire game and even led after three quarters of play. Raiders fans could appreciate a season of growth and development.

The Lady Raiders had many individual standouts this season. Team MVP and Davidson Basketball commit Tomisin Adenupe led the team in scoring again and continued to improve in preparation for her senior season. Adenupe expanded her offensive repertoire and became a very consistent three-point shooter down the stretch for the Raiders. She also played the safety role in the press, taking away many passes from the opposition and converting fast break opportunities. Tomisin has improved every year in her career, and this year was not just a scorer, but a do-it-all player. Tomisin also scored her 1,000 point in her career against Roswell High School this year. 

One of the faces of the defense was freshman Cici Childers. Cici was the team’s Defensive MVP this season and saw her minutes increase as the season continued. While Cici wasn’t able to make as much of an offensive impact as she did on JV until later in the varsity calender, she was always in the face of the opposition and giving them a hard time. Childers should see an even higher uptick in her minutes next season, as senior Emily Lee will graduate this spring. 

Speaking of Lee, the 5’5” point guard had a memorable senior season, orchestrating the Raider offense throughout the entire year. Lee has always been a great outside shooter, but this year she developed her intensity and court vision to lead the offense. In multiple games this season, suffocated the opposing guards and, on the other end of the court, would deliver a pass that others did not even see until it happened.

Neusha Green, the team’s other senior this year, was awarded with Rebounding MVP. Neusha faced an upward battle this season, nursing an injury that ended her junior campaign last year. As the season went on, however, Coach Kelterborn kept calling her number and she kept delivering, creating extra possessions for the offense with offensive rebounds and being a consistent scorer from 12 feet and in.

Thank you to Emily and Neusha for all you have done for the program! With the third season under Coach Kelterborn in the books, the Raiders have much to look forward to next year.

Varsity Girls

2020 Awards Banquet

The coaching staff, Tip-off Booster Club, players, and families enjoyed celebrating the many talented players in the Walton Basketball program. Several individuals were recognized for their exemplary work ethic both on and off the court.  The Player Awards are determined by the players…these recipients truly impress their teammates. The coaches verify those and of course select their Coaches Awards, which is a huge honor. Way to be a standout this season!  The Scholar Athlete Award can be earned only by Juniors or Seniors with a cumulative g.p.a. of 3.75 or greater. These players blew by that requirement!  Congratulations to our 2020 award recipients!  Farewell to our Seniors–Toni, Emily, David, Neusha, and Cole…we wish you nothing but success and happiness as you embark on your next journey.  Thank you for your leadership!

2020 Varsity— Scholar Athlete, JR Emory Paul; Defensive MVP & Scholar Athlete, JR Carson Adler; Scholar Athlete, JR Landon Hong; Most Valuable Player, JR Luka Avaliani; Scholar Athlete, JR Dylan Pumpian; Offensive MVP, SR David Sickles; Raider Pride Award & Scholar Athlete, SR Cole Morris; Coaches Award, SR Toni Adenupe (not shown)

2020 Scholar Athletes – JR Jacki Hecklinski, JR Sarah Lang, JR Tomisin Adenupe, JR Emma White, SR Emily Lee

2020 Varsity— Coaches Award, JR Colleen Short; Most Valuable Player, JR Tomisin Adenupe; Most Improved Player, JR Sarah Lang; Rebounding MVP, SR Neusha Green; Defensive MVP, FR Cici Childers

2020 Girls JV— Best Rebounder, SO Jenna Arendsen; Best Defensive, SO Ellie Kate Cline; Best Offensive, FR Cici Childers; Most Improved, FR Molly Chapman; Coaches Award, FR Grayson Smith

2020 Boys JV— Defensive MVP, SO Charlie Ames; Offensive MVP, SO Chioke Marshall; Most Valuable Player, SO Ryan Wideman; Coaches Award, SO Edgar Laurent

2020 Boys Freshmen— Defensive MVP, Jason Varghese; Offensive MVP, Nathan Watson; Most Valuable Player, Harry Tear; Coaches Award, Sam Walters