Kallie Peurifoy might be the face of the Academic Magnet girls soccer team, but defender Baker Walls is its backbone.
Walls, a senior co-captain, has been a four-year starter for the Raptors, the last three as a central defender.
She’s a big reason why the Raptors have been among the top defensive teams in the state the past three seasons and are making their third straight appearance in the Class AA state championship game. Academic Magnet (22-3) will face Christ Church in the Class AA state final today at Gilbert High School at 3 p.m.
While Peurifoy has scored more than 100 career goals, including two in the Raptors’ 3-0 win over Bishop England in the Lower State final, it has been Walls who has anchored the defense.
Over the past three years, the Raptors have recorded an eye-popping 48 shutouts and given up just 43 total goals. This season alone, the Raptors have 16 shutouts in 25 games and have allowed only 15 goals.
Not only is Walls a top one-on-one defender, it’s her job to organize the Raptors’ defense and get her teammates into the right positions.
No one knows how valuable Walls is to the Raptors more than Peurifoy.
“Baker is probably the best defender that I’ve ever played with,” Peurifoy said. “Baker is such a huge part of why we’ve been so successful the last few years. Just because she’s not scoring goals doesn’t mean she’s not an important part of our team. We don’t get scored on very much, and that’s because of Baker.”
Academic Magnet coach Anna Merriman couldn’t agree more.
“A lot of the time, offense and goal scorers are going to get the headlines and a lot of the attention,” Merriman said. “You can’t win state championships without being a great defensive team, and that starts with Baker.”
Walls, who will play soccer at The University of the South (Sewanee), just shrugs off such praise. She’s been an all-state player in Class A/Class AA for four straight years and will play in the prestigious Clash of the Carolinas All-Star game in July.
“We’ve had a great team since I’ve been here, so it’s been easy to play with great players,” Walls said.
Despite not scoring many goals during her career, the offense starts with Walls, Merriman said.
“Our attack really runs through Baker,” Merriman said. “She’s the one that gets it going for us from the back. When she possesses the ball, she just seems to know who to get the ball to. What’s great about Baker is that she can take a scoring opportunity for the other team and turn it into a scoring opportunity for us by playing an amazing counter-attack ball.”
A year ago, the Raptors were heavy favorites heading into the state title game only to lose to Christ Church, 2-0. This year, Walls said the team isn’t taking anything for granted.
“We went to state last year thinking it was just going to happen for us,” Walls said. “This year, we’re way more focused. We know it’s going to take our best game of the season to beat them.”
Follow Andrew Miller on Twitter: @apmiller_PandC