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.
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 CiciChilders. 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.
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
The Raider boys are on to the state tournament! Despite a loss to Cherokee on Friday, the program made significant strides this season, opening the year to one of the best starts in team history, finishing third in the region, and becoming the first Raider team in the region championship since the 1989 season. This team has been determined to compete since they took the floor in the fall and Friday’s game was no exception.
Despite the pressure of facing a Warrior team with only four losses this season, the Raiders did not waver. They held the Warriors in check on offense, playing aggressive man to man defense and boxing out larger Warrior players. The Raiders’ ability to limit offensive rebounds and second chance points was important. Toni Adenupe lead the rebounding effort for the team, being very physical with the Cherokee centers down low, refusing to let them establish position in the post and keeping them from being able to get loose balls. When the Raiders play the stronger teams in Georgia during the state tournament, limiting these second chance points and possessions will be critical.
Also important will be their ability to create extra possessions and capitalize on them. Before the game, Coach Abney encouraged his players to “control what you can control. Dive on loose balls, make the extra pass. One of the key things in basketball is to win the battle of possessions. Every possession is a new opportunity, so create opportunities for yourself.” On Friday, Carson Adler did this very well, grabbing two offensive rebounds and putting them in for layups early in the game to give the Raiders the lead. Carson also had two other opportunities off of rebounds, making two jump shots and forcing a Cherokee timeout. David Sickles had a big region tournament, playing his best basketball of the season after a second team all region selection this year. David has led this team in the postseason, helping everyone with their assignments on the court and creating opportunities for teammates. Heading into the state tournament, the team will look to David, Toni, and Cole Morris for senior leadership.
All of these seniors will be playing in their third straight state tournament under Coach Abney, which will start on Friday at 7:30 vs. East Coweta. East Coweta finished second in Region 2-AAAAAAA just behind Wheeler, so this promises to be an exciting game. Make sure to come out to Walton on Friday to support your Raiders as they begin a promising run in the state tournament.
Despite the loss, the program made significant strides this season, opening the year to one of the best starts in team history, finishing third in the region, and becoming the first Raider team in the region championship since the 2010 season. This team has been determined to compete since they took the floor in the fall and Friday’s game was no exception.
All Walton JR Raider Basketball teams made the tournament–read all about it here…
6th Grade Girls: This team is headed to the FINAL FOUR where they will face #2 seed Creekview at the Cobb Civic Center Sat., Feb. 15th at 9:00am.
6TH GRADE GIRLS
First Round–Beat Chattahoochee 26-9 to advance to the Sweet 16; Second Round (Sweet 16)–Beat Etowah 37-13 to advance to the Elite 8; Third round (Elite 8)–Defeat #1 seed Langston Hughes 19-15. Earlier in the season our 6th Grade Girls lost a tough one to Langston Hughes 40 -14…but NOT this time! The 6th Grade Girls team defeated Langston Hughes 19-14 to advance to the Final Four! It was a battle from start to finish. Our girls came out a little nervous and went down 5-0, but gained their composure and confidence and fought back. The game was back and forth within a point or tied all night. The refs were letting the Panthers foul us pretty hard and we had several girls get hurt and knocked out of the game. They did not stay out long and came back to have big games. The entire team played really hard-nosed, tough basketball on defense and on the boards. The entire team was cheering and supportive of one another. Coach McMasters had to be out of town and his Assistant, Coach Kim Clark, did an awesome job coaching. Down the stretch our girls showed great confidence and toughness with the ball. The Panthers were all over us in a desperate attempt to get the ball back. Our ball toughness earned us four foul shots at the end of the game and we made 3 out of 4 to seal the victory and beat a tough #1 seed.
6th Grade Boys: First Round–Lost to a tough Creekview team with a dominant big man.
7th Grade Girls: First Round–Win and advance to Sweet 16; Second Round (Sweet 16)–Lost to a #1 seed Cherokee.
7th Grade Boys: First Round–Beat River Ridge to advance to the Sweet 16; Second Round (Sweet 16)–Lost to #2 seed Lambert.
8th Grade Girls: First Round–As an #8 seed take #1 seed Pope to the limit, but lost a close one by 2.
8th Grade Boys: First Round–Head to the Sweet 16 with a 21 point win over Chattahoochee; Second Round (Sweet 16)–Win at the buzzer with a 3 point shot to advance to the Elite 8; Third Round (Elite 8)–Due to snow, had to play two games in same day and lost in the Elite 8 to a tough Pope team in our second game.
After a decisive win over the Lassiter Trojans in the region tournament on Tuesday, your Raider boys march on to take on the Etowah Eagles tonight at 8:30. The boys showed all indications on Tuesday of making a strong tournament run and the ability to compete with anyone.
The boys defeated the Trojans 64-44. The Raiders opened up the game attacking, opening up a 23-0 lead. They were able to find open shooters repeatedly on this run, and there was no hesitation from the shooters at all. Carson Adler was one of these shooters, attacking the Trojans and creating separation on his shots from the tip. Carson continued his play into the second half and ended with 14 points on the game. David Sickles once again continued his role as a senior playmaker, finding his own shots but helping orchestrate the offense as well. If the Raiders want to make a region championship run on Friday, the team will need David not only to hit big shots but lead others on the floor.
It was the Raider defense that really impressed Tuesday night. The team had a new level of intensity on that end of the floor, playing as a collective unit. Throughout the night, the Raiders were calling out ball screens and playing help defense. Landon Hong helped lead this effort, locking down the best Lassiter player for the entirety of the gamer. Landon sparked the team’s big first quarter run by disrupting the Trojan offense and being a nuisance to Lassiter ball handlers. Most importantly, the Raiders worked as one on Tuesday. Before the game, Coach Abney said to the team, “We have all the talent to win this game. Lassiter is going to come out with a fire though, and when things get tough you guys have to rally together and pick each other up.” As the Trojans threatened to cut the lead to single digits midway through the second quarter, the team did rally and came of a timeout with a renewed passion, attacking the basket and covering all of their defensive assignments.
The tournament continues tonight against Etowah. A win against the Eagles not only will mean that the Raiders will play for the region championship but also earn the opportunity to host their first state playoff game in 40 years. To get there, the Raiders need everything they’ve worked for this season including your support. Now is the time for all Raider faithful to come out tonight!
The regular season is in the books for your Walton Raiders. Before the tipoff of the region tournament on Tuesday, let’s take a look at how the Raiders played Friday night just ahead of their biggest games of the year.
In Friday’s game against Woodstock, Tomisin Adenupe played an all around game, driving to the basket and finishing at the rim but also protecting the basket and swatting away multiple Wolverine shots. Fellow forward Liz Williams finished the night with 17 points. Williams was able to keep the Wolverine defense honest in the first half by making multiple jump shots and then driving to the basket on fast breaks in the second half. One of girls’ assets in the 55-62 loss was converting steals and rebounds into fast break opportunities, making the Wolverines play at their pace. When the Raiders play in the tournament this upcoming week, this is one thing that they will want to do; when they have pushes game play to their pace this season, they have competed with any team in the region. Despite a loss the first time they played the Wolverines this season, the Raiders played their own game Friday and were always in the game, even leading after the 3rd quarter. The girls showed that they are ready to make a deep run in the region tournament. Their road begins Tuesday at 7:00 against the Etowah Eagles.
The boys defeated the Wolverines on Friday, 46-40. Dylan Pumpian led the boys with 14 points on the night. Dylan gave the Raiders a spark early in the second quarter, scoring on three straight possessions to reclaim the lead for the Raiders. David Sickles also provided veteran leadership on the floor, scoring 12 points but, more importantly, playing an excellent game in the defensive end, holding his matchup in check throughout the game. Cole Morris played an outstanding game on the defensive end, securing multiple rebounds over Woodstock opposition and swatting away their shots at the rim. With this win, the Raiders showed they have the ability to win low-scoring, defensive games. Many teams in the region thrive on this, and the boys look ready to compete with anyone in the tournament. They will host the Lassiter Trojans on Tuesday at 5:30 at Walton.
On Saturday, the all-region teams were announced. Tomisin Adenupe and Luka Avaliani were selected to the first team, DavidSickles was selected to the second team, and NeushaGreen was an honorable mention. Congratulations Raiders! Thank you for representing Walton well!
Walton is hosting the region tournament beginning Tuesday, so do your part to represent by showing up for your Raiders at 5:30 and 7:00 as the road to the state playoffs begins.
Your Raiders played great basketball last week in preparation for the region tournament, where they hope to clinch a state playoff spot.
The girls lost to the Cherokee Warriors on Tuesday. Senior Neusha Green was able to put up a near double-double, fighting hard in the paint against Warrior defenders for rebounds and putback layups. Green has played well in the both games against the Warriors this season, which could be key if the two teams find themselves playing each other in the region tournament. Freshman Cici Childers also played well against the Warriors, succeeding in running the half-court offense and breaking traps when the Warrior defense threw them at her. Childers was able to find teammates open for midrange jump shots multiple times when she drove to the basket as well. Friday the girls honored their seniors with a 73-35 defeat of Lassiter. In their best offensive showing of the season, Emily Lee led the Raiders with 23 points on the night. Lee also had six three pointers on the night, and when she was subbed out received a standing ovation for her hard work for the program over the years. Her fellow senior Neusha Green also played a strong game, scoring 9 points and battling down low as she has for the entirety of her Walton career. Green also received a standing ovation as she subbed out for the last time in the game. The Raider girls have played their best basketball over the back half of the season, and just played their best game of the year ahead of the region tournament. While they have played some tough games this year in region, they have consistently bounced back in their next matchup and have showed that, whenever they step on the court, they have a chance to win the game.
Despite a loss, the Raiders showed great improvement on Tuesday from their last matchup against the Cherokee Warriors. Much of this can be attributed to their ball movement. The team consistently swung the ball around the perimeter to find open shooters, and in the second half, was able to swing the ball inside as a result. Carson Adler was often one of those shooters on the perimeter, making four three point shots in the game and leading the Raiders in scoring for the night. Carson was able to start the second half strong for the Raiders, making threes on back to back possessions to cut the lead to single digits and swing the momentum in favor of the Raiders. Dylan Pumpian also found success against the Warriors, scoring 11 points on the game. Pumpian was not only a spot up shooter; he also put the ball on the floor multiple times and created space to free himself up to take a shot. The boys defeated Lassiter in their senior night as well, 67-43. Pearce Spurlin was able to open up the game in a big way, jumping over a Trojan defender for a put back layup. Spurlin also had a big presence in the lane, swatting away multiple Trojan shot attempts and affecting other shots. Luka Avaliani lead the Raiders in scoring, finishing with 19 points. Luka also had 3 straight and-ones in the 4th quarter, sealing the game for the Raiders. All of our Raider seniors found success in their last home regular season game as Raiders. Toni Adenupe scored in double figures, slicing through the lane and finishing through contact for layups. David Sickles finished with 12 points, making big shots when needed to slow the Trojan momentum. David’s last points came midway through the third when, off a pass from the elbow, he took a three from well beyond the line and sunk it to extend the lead to 20 points. Cole Morris put the exclamation mark on the night when he took one dribble from the foul line and threw down a powerful dunk over a hopeless Lassiter defender.
Both teams will finish the regular season this Friday on the road against Woodstock. The girls will start at 6:00, followed by the boys. Be there to support your Raiders!