Defense lifts Lady Devils over Lady Warriors

Kaylee Hendrickson drives to the goal against Happy Valley. The point guard had 4 assists in the win. (Photo contributed by Teresa Parkey)

From Staff Reports

Defense was the name of the game when the Unicoi County High School Lady Devil basketball team (5-2, 1-0) faced a familiar Three Rivers Conference foe on Friday, Dec. 1, in Erwin.

Against the Lady Warriors of Happy Valley, head coach Kerri King’s team allowed only two field goals in the first half on their way to a 58-35 conference victory.

“Our defensive intensity was very good, especially in the first half,” King said.

UCHS held a 12-4 lead at the end of the first quarter. Halie Padgett scored 10 of those points. The senior post had 23 points in the game and did not miss a shot from the field to lead the Lady Devils.

The UCHS offense was also firing on all cylinders in the first half.

“We were able to get out and run the floor for some easy baskets,” King said. “I also felt like we were active offensively against their zone and moved the ball well, which led to a lot of our points.”

In the second quarter, five other ladies – Kenedy King, Kaitlin Bailey, Rachel Lynch, Ashtan Vance and Allie Griffith – got on the scoreboard, as the team’s lead reached double figures. UCHS held a 26-11 lead at the break.

The third quarter was much of the same as the Lady Devils’ defense again held the Lady Warriors to single-digit scoring. Happy Valley scored 4 points, 7 points and 9 points, in the first three quarters of the game.

Also during the third quarter, the UCHS offense put the game away, scoring 18 points to take a 44-20 lead into the final eight minutes. Padgett scored 7 points in the quarter, while Bailey added 2. Guard Chloe Powers caught fire from beyond the arc, hitting three three-pointers.

The Lady Devils didn’t play as well in the fourth, allowing the Lady Warriors to score 15 points, but it was too little too late and UCHS won the first conference game of the season.

“Each conference game is important,” King said. “For the most part, we played with that mindset tonight.”

In addition to her 23 points, Padgett had 6 rebounds and 2 steals. Bailey and Powers both scored 9 points in the win. King had 5 points, 5 assists and 3 steals. Lynch and Griffith each scored 4 points. Vance scored 2 and Kaylee Hendrickson scored 2, while dishing out 4 assists.

The Lady Devils played their second conference game of the season on Tuesday, Dec. 5, at Sullivan South after The Erwin Record’s press deadline.

Their next game is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 11, at home against Hampton. They will travel to Science Hill to face the Lady Hilltoppers on Tuesday, Dec. 12, and to Mountain City to face the Lady Longhorns on Friday, Dec. 15. The junior varsity squad is scheduled to play at 3:30 p.m. each day, with the varsity taking to the court at 6:30 p.m.

Blue Devils best Happy Valley after slow start

Brett Lingerfelt dribbles away from Happy Valley’s Luke Roberts during the Blue Devils’ victory on Friday, Dec. 1, in Erwin. Lingerfelt scored 5 points in the game. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

From Staff Reports

Less than two weeks after they hammered Happy Valley during the 28th Annual Hardee’s Classic the Unicoi County High School Blue Devil basketball team (6-1, 1-0) had to play the Warriors again – this time a Three Rivers Conference victory on the line.

In the first matchup between the rivals this season, UCHS got the best of Happy Valley from the tip and cruised to a 77-40 victory. When the teams faced one another on Friday, Dec. 1, at the Devils’ Den in Erwin it appeared that would be the case again as UCHS took an early 8-2 lead and led 12-7 at the end of the first quarter.

Despite the early lead, the Blue Devils weren’t exactly playing well.

“It’s difficult to be focused to face a team after you just beat them by 37 points,” head coach Michael Smith said. “We overlooked them on Friday in the first half and it showed in how we played.”

The Blue Devils held a 20-14 lead with 2 minutes to play in the half. The Warriors then went on a 6-0 run to tie the game at 20. UCHS held a 22-20 lead at the break thanks to two free throws by post Clay Simpson in the final minute.

Fortunately for Smith and Blue Devil fans, the second half was a different story.

Guard Gavin Casey opened the third quarter with a bucket on his team’s first possession and the Blue Devils were much more active on defense, forcing missed shots and turnovers and converting those into points. UCHS outscored Happy Valley 27-9, including a 14-2 run in the final 3 minutes, in the third to take a 49-29 lead into the fourth quarter.

“We were sluggish in the first half,” Smith said. “But, our guys got themselves focused at halftime and really picked up their play in the second half, especially defensively.”

The Blue Devils outscored the Warriors 24-17 in the fourth quarter to win the game, 73-46.

Trevor Hensley scored 28 to lead the team. He also had 6 rebounds and 6 steals. Simpson scored 13 and had 7 rebounds and 4 blocks. Troy Podvin scored 5 and had 16 rebounds.

Brett Stroter scored 6. Brett Lingerfelt scored 5. Casey had 4. Danny Lowery and Noah Tilson each had 3 points. Austin O’Dell had 2 and Phoenix Holt had 1.

The Blue Devils played their second conference game of the season on Tuesday, Dec. 5, at Sullivan South after The Erwin Record’s press deadline.

Their next game is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 11, at home against Hampton.

They will travel to Science Hill to face the Hilltoppers on Tuesday, Dec. 12, and to Mountain City to face the Longhorns on Friday, Dec. 15. The junior varsity squad is scheduled to play at 5 p.m. each day, with the varsity taking to the court at 8 p.m.

Lady Devils best Tennessee High, University High

Kaitlin Bailey advances the ball down court for the Lady Devils during their 56-51 victory over Tennessee High. (Photo contributed by Teresa Parkey)

From Staff Reports

Different day. Different result.

Seven days after a loss to Tennessee High, the Unicoi County High School girls basketball team (3-2) avenged that defeat.

During the first matchup between the two teams, which was played on Tennessee High’s home floor on Nov. 18, the Lady Devil offense struggled against the Lady Viking’s zone defense. Several days of practice to work on zone offense proved beneficial as the Lady Devils were more active and more successful against the zone the second time around.

Playing in the Happy Valley Thanksgiving Classic on Saturday, Nov. 25, the shorthanded Lady Devils erased a second half deficit to earn a hardfought 56-51 victory over Tennessee High. The weekend tournament saw both Kenedy King and Caroline Podvin leave games with injuries.

“We went from depth to a slim rotation in a weekend,” Lady Devil head coach Kerri King said.

Foul trouble for post Halie Padgett also limited the squad against Tennessee High, but players off the bench came in and contributed.

“Rachel (Lynch) stepped in and gave us composure and poise with Halie in foul trouble,” King said. “Allee Griffith gave us huge minutes and Ashtan (Vance) dialed up the intensity.”

The Lady Devils held a 14-11 lead after the first quarter thanks to 6 points from Kaylee Hendrickson and 5 from Chloe Powers. They expanded their lead to 5, 27-22, at halftime on baskets by Kaitlin Bailey, Kaylia Street and Hendrickson.

However, it was Tennessee High who came out of the locker room the best in the third quarter. The Lady Vikings outscored UCHS 16-9 to take a 38-36 lead into the fourth quarter.

King’s Lady Devils scrapped back in the final eight minutes. Padgett scored 6 of her 9 points in the frame, while powers scored 6 and Hendrickson hit a big three-pointer. The Lady Devils found themselves up 54-51 with seconds to play and Bailey was fouled and sent to the free throw line. The sophomore hit both free throws to put the game out of reach for Tennessee High.

“Kaitlin knocked down free throws to seal it,” King said. “I thought Ashtan and Kaitlin executed better than they have all season. But Kaylee and Chloe just refused to lose. They had an answer every time Tennessee High tried to go on a run.”

Powers led the Lady Devil offense with 17 points. She also had 4 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals. Hendrickson scored 14 points to go along with 5 rebounds and 3 steals. Padgett scored 9 and had 5 rebounds. Bailey scored 7 and had 4 rebounds and 2 steals. Vance scored 4. Street scored 3. Griffith scored 2 and had 5 rebounds.

• • •

The Lady Devils opened the Happy Valley Thanksgiving Classic by trouncing University High, 75-16, on Friday, Nov. 24.

There was little doubt who would win this contest when the Lady Devils took a 26-4 lead after the first quarter. UCHS held a 39-13 lead at halftime, then held University High to just 3 points in the second half to get the win.

Every Lady Devil scored in the game. Powers led the team with 14 points. Padgett scored 13 and had 5 rebounds. Griffith and Bailey scored 8 points each, while having 6 and 5 rebounds, respectively. Hendrickson scored 7 and had 7 assists. Kayla Street and Podvin each scored 6 points. King had 5 points and 4 steals. Lynch and Vance scored 4 points each.

• • •

The Lady Devils will open Three Rivers Conference play on Friday, Dec. 1, when they host the Happy Valley Lady Warriors at UCHS. The varsity game is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. There will not be a girls junior varsity game on Friday.

The team will travel to Sullivan South for another conference game on Tuesday, Dec. 5. The varsity game is also scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. on that day. There will not be a junior varsity game at South.

Blue Devils win three straight

Gavin Casey looks for an open teammate during the Blue Devils’ win over Northview Academy. (Photo contributed by Teresa Parkey)

From Staff Reports

After losing its first game of the season, the Unicoi County High School boys basketball team rebounded with three consecutive victories.

Playing in the 28th Annual Hardee’s Classic at David Crockett High School last week, the Blue Devils lost to the host squad, 77-5, on Nov. 20, then went on to win its next three contests, defeating Happy Valley, Northview Academy and Daniel Boone to improve to 5-1 on the season.

On Tuesday, Nov. 21, the Blue Devils manhandled Three Rivers Conference rival Happy Valley, 77-40.

“We were happy with the way our guys bounced back from the loss the day before,” head coach Michael Smith said. “It was good to see them respond how they did. Our pressure defense was very effective in that game.”

Trevor Hensley almost outscored the Warriors on his own – he had 37 points and 4 steals in the win. Clay Simpson and Brett Lingerfelt each scored 7 points. Troy Podvin and Brock Thompson each scored 6. Brett Strother and Austin O’Dell had 4 points each. Caleb Adkins, Danny Lowery and Nicholas Lynch each scored 2.

• • •

UCHS got another blowout victory during the tournament on Friday, Nov. 24. This time, they defeated Northview Academy, 71-51. A 30-point first quarter put the Blue Devils in control from the beginning, then they cruised to the victory.

“Again, our pressure defense forced turnovers and created easy baskets for us,” Smith said.

Hensley scored 27 points to go along with 6 steals and 4 assists in the win. Simpson scored 21 and had 9 rebounds. Lingerfelt scored 11. Podvin scored 5 and had 9 rebounds. Ty Thelen scored 3. Strother scored 2. Thompson and Lowery scored 1 point each.

• • •

The Blue Devils found themselves down 40-32 at halftime against Daniel Boone on Saturday, Nov. 25, after the Trailblazers went on a 21-7 run in the second quarter.

“Their zone defense in the second quarter bothered us a little and slowed down our offense,” Smith said. “We had some good shots from outside, but we just didn’t make them.”

The teams played even basketball in the third quarter – each scoring 6 points for a 46-38 Trailblazer lead. That lead reached double figures during the fourth, then the Blue Devils switched to a full-court man press and that changed the tide of the game.

“That got the tempo in our favor and we got some easy baskets from that,” Smith said. “That really helped us. Our energy picked up and we were more aggressive, which allowed us to go on a run to take the lead and win the game.”

A three-pointer by Brock Thompson tied the game at 55, but Boone responded with a score for a 57-55 lead. A steal by Podvin led to a three-point play by Simpson which gave the Blue Devils a 58-57 lead – a lead they would not relinquish.

UCHS held on to win the game, 64-60.

Hensley scored 19 and had 5 assists. Simpson scored 14 and had 7 rebounds. Podvin scored 9 and had 7 rebounds. Thompson, Lingerfelt and Strother had 6 points each. Gavin Casey scored 4.

Jefferson County won the 28th Annual Hardee’s Classic.

• • •

The Blue Devils will open Three Rivers Conference play on Friday, Dec. 1, against Happy Valley at the Devils’ Den in Erwin. The junior varsity squad will play at 5 p.m., with the varsity taking to the court at 8 p.m.

Conference play will continue for the Blue Devils when they go on the road to face Sullivan South on Tuesday, Dec. 5. The freshmen team will play at 3:30 p.m., followed by the junior varsity at 5 p.m. and the varsity at 8 p.m.

Players commit to Milligan, Carson-Newman colleges

Four Unicoi County High School Blue Devil baseball players signed with colleges on Nov. 13. They were, seated, pictured from left, Clay Simpson, Caleb Wilson, Hunter Higgins and Troy Podvin. Joining the players during the signing ceremony were their Blue Devil teammates. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

From Staff Reports

Monday, Nov. 13, was an important day for the Unicoi County High School baseball program.

That morning, not one, not two, not three, but four players signed to play the game they love at the collegiate level.

Joined by family, friends, coaches, teammates and school officials the four seniors – Hunter Higgins, Troy Podvin, Clay Simpson and Caleb Wilson, celebrated the next step in their careers with a ceremony held at UCHS.

“I can’t say enough about Troy, Caleb, Hunter and Clay,” Blue Devil head coach Chad Gillis told The Erwin Record. “They were all freshman when I took over and they ended up playing major roles in our journey to the substate game that season.”

The four signing on the same day was more evidence of the close bond between the four players. 

“They are a tight group of kids who have played a lot of baseball together through the years,” Gillis said. “To say that they are the ‘foundation’ of what I want to do with Unicoi County baseball is is an understatement. These guys have all battled for three years with no complaint or issue. These guys not only put it all on the field, but they are all very successful in the classroom. They are great representatives of our baseball program, county and school. I am very proud of their accomplishments and wish them all the best in their baseball careers.”

Higgins, Podvin and Wilson all signed with Milligan College last week. Simpson signed with Carson-Newman University.

Hunter Higgins

Higgins has been the starting varsity catcher for the Blue Devils since his freshman season.

“Hunter provides a great amount of leadership to our program,” Gillis said. “He has a grit about him that you do not get from every high school player. Having been the only catcher for three years, he brings a lot of physical and mental toughness to our team. Hunter loves a challenge and works hard to be the best he can be on and off the field. I am very appreciative of Hunter. He has never complained or not wanted to play due to being tired or sore. He loves the game and the program.

“I feel like Hunter will go in and compete for a position behind the plate. He has tremendous work ethic and will only continue to fine tune his skills at Milligan,” Gillis added.

Troy Podvin

Podvin has played many roles for the Blue Devils since his freshman year. Gillis expects Podvin to play third base during his senior season, as well as pitch and play some at first base.

“Troy, like the others, is a great kid and an even better teammate,” Gillis said. “He leads by his actions and his play on the field. Troy is a three sport athlete and excels in every sport. He has a great work ethic and this tends to trickle down to his teammates. I believe a lot of his teammates look up to him because he is such a great person and easy to talk to. When it comes to play, he is a fierce competitor.”

Caleb Wilson

Wilson is a pitcher for UCHS and plays right field.

“Caleb is a vocal leader on our team,” Gillis said. “He is a baseball kid and he loves everything about the game. Caleb is a great teammate and tends to set the bar high for himself and his peers. He is a player you can trust to get the job done, no matter the situation or what position he may be in at the time. Caleb always brings 110 percent with him.

“I can see Caleb possibly getting a shot to be a pitcher/playing a position. Caleb has a good bat and can definitely compete on the mound. I can see him getting stronger and gaining some velocity in the coming years, which will help him earn more mound time. Caleb is that crafty lefty that is just tough to get a good bat on,” Gillis continued.

Clay Simpson

Simpson has been a starting pitcher for the Blue Devils since his sophomore season. He also served as a designated hitter in the 2017 season.

“Clay is not only a super kid, but he is also a great teammate. He is a two sport guy that sacrifices a lot of time to be successful in both baseball and basketball. Clay brings a competitive edge to our team and others feed off his energy and drive.

“Clay will have the opportunity to go to Carson-Newman and be a starter. I feel like he will go down there and push some veteran players for mound time. Clay will only get stronger and grow as a pitcher once he gets into coach (Tom) Griffin’s program. Having played for coach Griffin myself, Clay will be pushed day in and day out to be the best player he can. I have no doubt Clay will be successful at Carson-Newman,” Gillis added.

Lady Devils battle AAA teams

Lady Devil sophomore Ashtan Vance drives to the goal during her team’s victory at Volunteer on Thursday, Nov. 16. Vance scored 7 points in the win. (Photo contributed by Teresa Parkey)

From Staff Reports

Three games against three tough opponents awaited the Unicoi County High School girls basketball team (1-2) during the first days of the 2017-18 season.

In their first game of the season, the Lady Devils found themselves trailing 22-15 at Volunteer to the Lady Falcons on Thursday, Nov. 16, in Hall of Champions action. The team’s offensive struggles worked in favor of Volunteer, but fortunately for the Lady Devils their defense kept them in the game.

“We were not playing cohesively on offense,” head coach Kerri King said, “but, our defensive effort kept the score close.”

The second half was a different story. UCHS took a few minutes to get rolling offensively, but eventually they did, thanks to two three-point plays by Allee Griffith, baskets by Ashtan Vance and three-pointers by Chloe Powers and Kaylee Hendrickson.

“Our post play hurt them,” King said. “We were able to score in the paint and that opened things up for us on the perimeter.”

In a close contest, the Lady Devils shot well from the line in the fourth quarter, making 12-13 of their free throw attempts.

Powers led the team in scoring with 14 points. Haley Padgett scored 11 and had 5 rebounds and 3 steals. Hendrickson scored 10 and had 3 steals. Griffith scored 8, Vance scored 7 and Kaitlin Bailey scored 2.

• • •

The Lady Devils played not one, but two Hall of Champions games at Tennessee High School in Bristol on Saturday, Nov. 18.

The team really struggled shooting the ball from the perimeter in the first game against the host Lady Vikings; the Lady Devils hit only 5 of their 13 two-point attempts and hit only 3 of their 17 three-point attempts. A bright spot was the team’s free throw shooting – they hit 23-28 attempts for 82 percent. Padgett was 18-20 from the free throw line.

“We had a solid first quarter, but we got in foul trouble,” King said. “I went to the bench, but I feel like we were never cohesive offensively after that. They were playing a zone and we were cold from the outside.”

The Lady Devils found themselves down by 9 points, 30-21 at the end of the third quarter. Using full-court pressure, the team went on a run and scored 21 points in the quarter, including a three-pointer by Padgett to give the ladies a chance to get the win. However, they just didn’t have enough time and lost the game 44-42.

Padgett led the team with 27 points, 7 rebounds and 3 steals. Hendrickson scored 6. Vance scored 4. Caroline Podvin scored 3. Powers and Rachel Lynch each scored 1 point.

Just a few hours after the Tennessee High game, the Lady Devils were on the court facing a big Dobyns-Bennett team. UCHS showed no hesitation and came out and battled the Lady Indians play for play.

“Our defensive effort was great in that game,” King said. “We did a good job handling their pressure. I was pleased with our effort.”

That defensive effort resulted in 21 steals by the Lady Devils.

Unfortunately, a quick 5-0 run by the Lady Indians late in the game gave them the cushion they needed to get a 52-48 win.

Padgett scored 16 in the loss to go along with 6 rebounds and 4 steals. Bailey scored 10 and had 6 rebounds and 3 steals. Hendrickson scored 8. Vance scored 5. Kenedy King scored 4 and had 5 steals. Griffith scored 3. Powers scored 2.

“Obviously, we don’t want to lose games,” King said. “But, we set our schedule up early to be tough so we can learn and get things figured out as the season goes along. I am happy with how we are progressing.”

• • •

The Lady Devils are scheduled to play in a Thanksgiving tournament at Happy Valley High School in Carter County on Friday, Nov. 24, and Saturday, Nov. 25. They will face University High at 3 p.m. on Friday and get a chance to avenge their loss to Tennessee High when they face the Lady Vikings at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.

The team will open its conference schedule on Friday, Dec. 1, when they host Happy Valley at 6:30 p.m. at UCHS. The junior varsity team is scheduled to play its first game of the season on that day at 3:30 p.m.

Blue Devils fall in opening round of Hardee’s Classic

Brett Strother fights for a loose ball with two Volunteer Falcons during the Blue Devils’ 70-63 victory on Thursday, Nov. 16. Strother scored 3 points and had 7 rebounds in the game. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

From Staff Reports

After winning the first two games of the season, the Unicoi County High School boys basketball team (2-1) suffered its first loss on Monday, Nov. 20, in the opening round of the 28th Annual Hardee’s Classic.

Facing the David Crockett Pioneers, the tournament’s host team, the Blue Devils struggled shooting the ball and lost the game, 77-65. The defeat will keep UCHS from winning its second consecutive Hardee’s Classic title.

“We didn’t have a good night offensively,” Blue Devil head coach Michael Smith said.

Trevor Hensley scored 19 points and had 3 assists in the loss. Troy Podvin had his third double-double in three games with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Clay Simpson also had a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Brock Thompson scored 11 points and had 2 assists.

The loss sent the Blue Devils to the tournament’s consolation bracket where they faced Happy Valley on Tuesday, Nov. 21, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline. Win or lose on Tuesday, the team will continue tournament play later in the week. The Hardee’s Classic will conclude on Saturday, Nov. 25.

• • •

The Blue Devils opened the season on Thursday, Nov. 16, with a 70-63 victory at Volunteer over the Falcons in Hall of Champions play.

“I thought we played hard,” Smith said. “We were a little nervous at the start because it was the first game of the season and we played a little timid because of that. Once we settled down and got into a rhythm, I thought we played a pretty good game.”

Smith said a bright spot of the team’s performance was its free throw shooting. The Blue Devils hit 30-39 attempts or 76.9 percent.

“That was a big key in the win and it will be important for us this season,” Smith said. “I think we will go to the line a lot this year.”

Hensley scored 29 to go along with 15 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals. Podvin had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Simpson also had a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds to go along with 5 blocks. Brett Strother scored 3 points and had 7 rebounds. Gavin Casey scored 6.

• • •

The Blue Devils won another Hall of Champions game on Saturday, Nov. 18 – this time at home against Cumberland Gap.

“We gave another good effort,” Smith said. “We didn’t shoot the ball well, but we did what we needed to do to get the win. Cumberland Gap is a very scrappy team.”

Podvin led the team with 23 points and 14 rebounds. Hensley scored 12 and had 4 assists. Simpson scored 9 and had 5 rebounds. Brett Lingerfelt scored 11.

• • •

The Blue Devils will open Three Rivers Conference play on Friday, Dec. 1, when they host Happy Valley at UCHS. The junior varsity team is scheduled to play at 5:30 p.m., with the varsity playing at 8 p.m.

Blue Devils ready to make run at titles

The 2017-18 Unicoi County High School Blue Devil varsity team includes, pictured from left, back row, head coach Michael Smith, assistant coach Malcolm Foreman, Brett Strother, Troy Podvin, Clay Simpson, Nicholas Lynch, Trevor Hensley, assistant coach Eli Barnwell, assistant coach Jordan Simmons and assistant coach Ben Evely; front row, manager Sarah Grace Larkey, Danny Lowery, Caleb Adkins, Brett Lingerfelt, Gavin Casey, Ty Thelen, Brock Thompson, Austin O’Dell and manager Emily Lamie. (Photo contributed by Anthony Piercy)

From Staff Reports

The Unicoi County High School Blue Devil varsity basketball team will be hitting the court with three starters returning from last season’s team, which posted a 19-15 record and advanced to the semifinals of the region tournament under head coach Michael Smith.

This experience and a group of athletic players off the bench should spell trouble for the Blue Devils’ opponents each game.

“Our expectations this season are the same as any other year,” Smith said. “We want to win the league, win the district and the region tournaments. We want to be playing in a substate game, so we can have a chance at a state tournament berth.”

Leading that charge for a state berth will be three seniors – Trevor Hensley, Clay Simpson and Troy Podvin – all of whom will be starters for the Blue Devils.

Hensley, a guard, was the Blue Devils’ leading scorer from last season, averaging 20 points and 5 assists.

Simpson and Podvin will control the paint and the boards for UCHS, Smith said. Simpson averaged almost 8 points and 8 rebounds for game last season. Podvin averaged 8.5 points and 8 rebounds and was a starter for the final 14 games of last season. When he started games, Podvin averaged a double-double.

“We are expecting a lot out of our senior guys,” Smith said. “They are a great group of players and they can meet those expectations.”

Starting at the point guard spot will be junior Gavin Casey. Smith said Casey is a good ball handler, passer and defender.

Rounding out the starting lineup will be junior Brett Strother, who Smith said is the team’s defensive specialist.

“Brett is one of our better athletes,” Smith said. “He can handle the ball and will probably guard the other team’s best player night-in and night-out.”

Five players off the varsity bench will be expected to contribute as well, according to Smith. They include: juniors Danny Lowery, Austin O’Dell and Ty Thelen: sophomore Brett Lingefelt; and freshman Brock Thompson.

Lowery is a post player who saw some varsity minutes last year.

“Danny is a good athlete who jumps well and is a good defender and rebounder,” Smith said.

O’Dell and Thelen are both good defenders, according to the head coach. O’Dell will play in the post, while Thelen will play on the perimeter.

Lingerfelt and Thompson will sub-in at guard spots.

“Brett and Brock are both good offensive players who can shoot the ball very well,” Smith said. “As they get more game experience, they will continue to improve.”

Rounding out the varsity squad are sophomores Nicholas Lynch and Caleb Adkins. Smith said four other sophomores – Nicholas Hensley, Boone Reed, Noah Tilson and Phoenix Holt – will occasionally dress with the varsity this season.

Assets for the varsity squad this season are their size athleticism, strength and depth, Smith said.

“We are very athletic at every position,” he added. “We also have good size at almost every position. We really feel like we can use that to our advantage to put defensive pressure on other teams. All of our guys have also worked hard in the weight room during the offseason and have gotten stronger because of that. We have seen the positive impacts of that during our preseason scrimmages. Our guys are doing a better job of being physical and getting into position to score.”

The Blue Devils will once again play in the Three Rivers Conference. Joining UCHS in the league are Elizabethton, Happy Valley, Johnson County, Sullivan Central, Sullivan East and Sullivan South.

“It’s going to be a tough league from top to bottom,” Smith said. “We are going to have to compete every night. But, we want that because it makes you better. That will get us ready for tournament time at the end of the season.”

Non-conference games won’t be a cakewalk for the Blue Devils either. Facing AAA teams such as David Crockett and Science Hill, as well as the perennially tough A schools Hampton and Cloudland mean the Blue Devils will be facing tough competition each time they take the court.

Joining Smith on the sidelines this season will be assistant coaches Ben Evely, Jordan Simmons, Eli Barnwell and Malcolm Foreman.

The Blue Devils will play their season opener in Hall of Champions action on Thursday, Nov. 16, at 1 p.m. at Volunteer High School against the Falcons. They will continue Hall of Champions play on Saturday, Nov. 18, in Erwin when they host Cumberland Gap. The junior varsity squad will play at 1 p.m., followed by the varsity squad.

The Blue Devils will open the 28th Annual Hardee’s Classic on Monday, Nov. 20, at David Crockett High School at 7 p.m. Their opponent will be the tournament-hosting Pioneers. The Blue Devils won the tournament last season – the fifth in school history – and they are hoping to bring another title back to Erwin.

“I always like playing in the Hardee’s Classic,” Smith said. “For an early season tournament, it’s always a good gauge of where you are as a team and what you need to work on. We have a tough draw against a good Crockett team, but we are going in ready to compete for the title.”

Win or lose on Monday, the Blue Devils will play on Tuesday, Nov. 21. The tournament will continue on Friday, Nov. 24, and Saturday, Nov. 25.

Experience, athleticism return for Lady Devils

The 2017-18 Unicoi County High School Lady Devil program includes, pictured from left, back row, varsity assistant Keeli Parkey, assistant coach Megan Davis, Natalia Mendoza, Kenedy King, Kaitlin Bailey, Halie Padgett, Caroline Podvin, Rachel Lynch, manager Taylor Thomas and head coach Kerri King; front row, Allee Griffith, Caitlin Clouse, Ashtan Vance, Chloe Powers, Kaylee Hendrickson, Kaylia Street, Emma Griffith, Leah Edney, Tenley Holt and Jayla Stockfelt. (Photo contributed by Anthony Piercy)

From Staff Reports

The Unicoi County High School girls’ basketball team is looking to bounce back from last season’s below-500 record and to be competitive in a deep Three Rivers Conference.

Under the direction of head coach Kerri King, the Lady Devils return three seniors and a younger group of players who are ready to contribute to the program.

“I feel like we have integral parts back,” King told The Erwin Record. “We have more depth and athleticism than we have had in previous years. I am optimistic about that. We were better than our record showed last season. We are going to build on that experience. We are going to keep doing the things we do well and we are going to improve in the areas we need to.”

Leading the way for the program this season are seniors Halie Padgett, Kenedy King and Rachel Lynch.

Padgett was the team’s leading scorer last season, averaging just over 12 points per game. She also averaged 8 rebounds per game.

“Halie has been our leading scorer and she gives us stability,” King said. “I feel like she has developed a sense of maturity that is going to help us. She has also developed different aspects of her game.”

King averaged almost 7 points last season and led the team in three-pointers made.

“When Kenedy was a younger player, she got thrown into varsity play probably before she was ready. That is also true of Chloe (Powers), Kaylee (Hendrickson) and Rachel. I feel like she has figured out her role and knows the things she can be successful doing.”

Lynch returns to the court after missing most of last season due to a knee injury.

“Rachel is a cerebral player,” King said. “Because she had to sit out so much last season, she got to develop an understanding of the game that she didn’t have before her injury.”

Padgett and King are expected to start this season. Lynch will provide quality minutes off the bench. Joining Padgett and King in the starting lineup will be junior point guard Kaylee Hendrickson, who averaged 6 points per game last season, and junior guard Chloe Powers. Sophomore guard Kaitlin Bailey, who can also play in the post, will be the other starter, according to King.

“Kaylee is a good ball handler and can make shots,” King said. “We are going to depend on her to lead our floor game. She is also a good defensive stopper on the opposing team’s point guard.”

Powers played very well during summer competition, according to her head coach.

“I think she is comfortable where she is and is just playing,” King said.

Bailey brings length, athleticism and speed to the team.

“Kaitlin is a very athletic and quick player,” King said. “She has found her niche with the starting lineup and she is explosive in transition.”

Junior post Allee Griffith gave the Lady Devils solid minutes off the bench during the summer.

“We need a physical presence and Allee gives us that,” King said. “She gave us that all summer. She has stepped into a role where she contributes in a lot of ways. She is going to be huge for us.”

Ashtan Vance – another athletic sophomore – is very active on the floor for the team.

“She plays hard and is a good defender,” King said. “She can also play several different positions.”

Sophomore guard Kaylia Street and freshman Caroline Podvin give the Lady Devils two more players who can handle the ball and score.

“Kaylia is a smooth, composed and athletic player,” King said. “Caroline is a good ball handler and the game comes easy for her.”

The varsity squad has a good mix of experience and youth, which gives the team depth. Fans should expect to see different groups of players together on the floor almost every game.

“I feel like finding the right combination on any given day will be a challenge,” King said. “It could be a different group of players on any given day. The downside is being able to create groups on the floor who are cohesive, because we have players from every grade who are going to be key for us if we are going to be successful.”

Only 10 players will be dressing varsity at the start of the season, according to King. However, the players on the junior varsity squad are expected to have positive impacts on the program.

The junior varsity will include: junior Caitlin Clouse, freshman Leah Edney, freshman Emma Griffith, freshman Tenley Holt, junior Natalia Mendoza and sophomore Jayla Stockfelt.

“We are solid from player number 1 to number 15,” King said. “It makes practices competitive. They are a hardworking group and fun to coach.”

King said the varsity team will be competing in a Three Rivers Conference where any team can beat another on any given night.

“There is a lot of parity in the conference,” King said. “That is a good thing, but it also means you have to be on your toes ready to play night in and night out. Every game is going to count.”

In addition to UCHS, the Three Rivers Conference includes Elizabethton, Happy Valley, Johnson County, Sullivan Central, Sullivan East and Sullivan South.

Their athleticism, experience and depth could help the Lady Devils improve on their fourth-place conference finish during the 2016-17 season. Last year’s team took third place in the District 1-AA tournament and ended the season with a loss to Grainger in the first round of the Region 1-AA tournament.

Joining King on the sidelines this season will be assistant coach Megan Davis and varsity assistant Keeli Parkey.

Fans will get their first look of the Lady Devils on Thursday, Nov. 16, at 2 p.m. at Volunteer High School in a Hall of Champions game. UCHS will also play in Hall of Champions action on Saturday, Nov. 18, at Tennessee High at 3 p.m. against Tennessee High and against Dobyns-Bennett a few hours later.

“From the start, we have a very tough schedule,” King said. “We will need to be ready to compete.”

The Lady Devils will also play in a Thanksgiving tournament at Happy Valley High School on Friday, Nov. 24, and Saturday, Nov. 25.

Blue Devil football players receive region honors

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School football team wrapped up the 2017 season with a 5-6 overall record and a 3-2 record in Region 1-AAA.

League wins for the team included victories over North Greene, Claiborne and Chuckey-Doak. League losses for the Blue Devils came at the hands of West Greene and Johnson County.

Outside of league play, the Blue Devils defeated Sullivan Central and Unaka. Non-league losses came at the hands of South Greene, Sullivan East and Happy Valley.

Not taking care of the football proved costly for the Blue Devils this season.

“The other thing that we can’t ignore is what happens when we take care of the football versus when we don’t,” head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record. “In our five regular season losses we had 22 turnovers. In our five wins we had two turnovers. Some of those losses were by a touchdown or less too, so who knows what our record might have ended up if we cut those turnovers in half. Regardless, we just have to continue to get better in all that we do.”

• • •

With the season having come to an end, the coaches of Region 1-AAA have awarded league players for their performances on the field this year.

Junior Brett Strother was chosen as the league’s Offensive Player of the Year. Strother compiled more than 1,100 yards of total offense and scored 16 touchdowns.

Strother wasn’t the only Blue Devil to receive acknowledgement for their performances. Named to the Region 1-AAA First Team were: senior Owen Nicholson, senior Michael Smith, senior Matthew Hatcher, sophomore Kody Lewis, sophomore Roby Lemmon and senior Shane Armstrong.

Named to the Region 1-AAA Second Team were: senior Bradley Edwards, senior Troy Podvin, sophomore Brock Thompson, senior Hunter Higgins and junior Noah White.

Junior Drew Williams was chosen for the Academic All-Region team thanks to his 4.0 grade point average

Chosen as the league’s Co-Players of the Year were West Greene’s Juliun Lane and Johnson County’s Nathan Arnold.

• • •

Putting a balanced offensive attack on the field was a goal for Rice, his staff and his players. And, they met that goal.

The Blue Devils have gained 2,849 total yards during the season – 1,424 in the air and 1,425 on the ground. The team has averaged 129.45 passing yards per game and 129.55 yards rushing for a very balanced offensive attack.

The Blue Devils had 15 passing touchdowns and 20 rushing touchdowns.

“We did get our offense balanced which was one of our goals because in 2016 we had a really hard time running the football,” Rice told The Erwin Record. “We ended up throwing for over 1,400 yards and rushing for 1,400 yards which is about as balanced as you can get. With all that being said though, I think a great foundation has been laid for where we are trying to get this program.”

Here’s a look at individual stats from the 2017 season.

Passing

Brock Thompson completed 81-139 passes. He passed for a total of 1,203 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Strother completed 21-39 passes and threw for 3 touchdowns.

Receiving

Strother caught 27 passes for 521 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Nicholson caught 36 passes for 449 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Troy Podvin had 19 catches for 302 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Rushing

Kody Lewis had 80 carries for 584 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Strother had 65 carries for 367 yards and 9 touchdowns.

Shane Armstrong had 31 carries for 113 yards and 1 touchdown.

Michael Smith had 23 carries for 130 yards.

Tanner Vanhoy, Bradley Edwards and Brock Thompson all rushed for touchdowns this season.

Defense

Nicholson had 151 tackles, 2 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries.

Smith had 1133 tackles, 3 sacks and 1 interception.

Hatcher had 107 tackles, 6 sacks and 1 safety.

Lewis had 88 tackles and 1 interception.

White had 69 tackles.

Edwards had 68 tackles, 4 interceptions and 1 fumble recovery.

Higgins had 61 tackles and 1 fumble recovery.

Armstrong had 54 tackles and 1 fumble recovery.

Lemmon had 39 tackles and 2 fumble recoveries.

Williams had 38 tackles.

• • •

Rice said the upcoming offseason will be important for the success of the 2018 Blue Devil football team.

“We are going to emphasize the offseason because so much of the game is won from January to July,” Rice said. “We still aren’t even a full calendar year into our strength and conditioning program, so that’s an area we anticipate to see some huge gains as we get two and three years into the offseason program.

“I have to compliment coach Mark Peterson for his work there; it’s been phenomenal having a full-time strength and conditioning coach,” Rice continued. “Our injuries were a fraction of what they have been in year’s past and I fully believe that’s because of the commitment we have made to improving our strength, conditioning and flexibility.”

Roadrunners race past Blue Devils

Blue Devil Austin O’Dell prepares to tackle Austin-East quarterback Chris Hunter during the Roadrunners’ victory over UCHS on Friday, Nov. 3. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

For the third consecutive year, the Blue Devils saw their season come to an end with a loss in the first round of the playoffs.

This time around it was the Austin-East Roadrunners (9-2, 5-1) who ended the season for the Unicoi County High School football team (5-6, 3-2) with a 33-0 victory in Knoxville on Friday, Nov. 3, in AAA playoff action.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our team,” Blue Devil head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record. “We went toe-to-toe with the second best team in the state for three quarters. Our guys fought their tails off.”

Particularly during the first half, UCHS battled play-for-play with Austin-East on a wet and muddy field, ending the first quarter tied 0-0. The Blue Devils had their best scoring opportunity of the game on their first possession of that quarter thanks to a heads-up play by senior Owen Nicholson. On fourth-and-2 Nicholson went back to punt, but bobbled the ball; he then carried the ball to the outside and raced for 69 yards to give the Blue Devils first-and-goal from the 4-yard line. Unfortunately, a fumble by UCHS ended the drive.

“I think the fumble on the goal line was tough,” Rice said. “If we punch it in there, and hold them before the half, who knows what might have happened.”

The Blue Devil found themselves with good field position again in the second quarter thanks to an interception and return across midfield by Bradley Edwards; however, they turned the ball over on downs.

The scoreless battle continued into the final minute of the first half. The Roadrunners’ put together their first scoring drive of the game thanks to three completed passes by quarterback Chris Hunter, who will be playing for Army when he enters college. The point-after attempt (PAT) was successful and Austin-East took a 7-0 lead into halftime.

“It definitely would have been nice to keep them out of there,” Rice said of the touchdown. “Even with the score though, our guys went into halftime believing we still had a shot.”

In the second half, the Roadrunners’ speed began to wear down the Blue Devils. On their first possession of the third quarter, Hunter carried the ball three times to lead his offense and set up another touchdown. Austin-East then held a 14-0 lead with just over 9 minutes to play in the quarter.

“Their speed was unbelievable,” Rice said of the Roadrunners. “You can watch all the film you want, but there is nothing like seeing it in person. We had trouble tackling them in space. I was very pleased with how our guys up front played on both sides of the ball, though. To go from us struggling against South Greene, to blocking and getting off blocks against the second best team in the state, throughout the course of one season is tremendous.”

The Roadrunners put the game out of reach with another touchdown in the opening moments of the fourth quarter for a 21-0 lead. The Blue Devils would not get on the scoreboard as Austin-East went on to win the game, 33-0.

The win over the Blue Devils will send the Roadrunners to Mountain City to face the Johnson County Longhorns (11-0, 5-0) on Friday, Nov. 10, in the second round of the playoffs. The Longhorns defeated Northview Academy 21-20 on Nov. 3 to advance.

“I thought everyone that played Friday night laid it on the line, which was great to see,” Rice said.

The Blue Devils had 176 offensive yards – 73 in the air and 103 on the ground. Quarterback Brock Thompson was 11-22 passing for 73 yards. Nicholson had 5 catches for 23 yards and 1 carry for 69 yards. Brett Strother had 5 catches for 15 yards and 4 carries for 38 yards. Kody Lewis had 6 carries for 15 yards.

On the defensive side of the ball, Lewis had 17 tackles and Nicholson had 16. Matthew Hatcher had 15; Michael Smith had 9; Edwards had 8 and 1 interception. Shane Armstrong had 8 tackles and 1 sack. Hunter Higgins, Austin O’Dell and Tanner Vanhoy had 5 tackles each.

• • •

Rice said his team met many of the goals they set for the season, but fell short on some others.

“I feel like we did some great things this year, but at the same time I think all of these guys and the coaching staff would tell you that we left some wins out there that we should have gotten,” he said. “We finished third in the region and still feel like we underachieved there.

“We did get our offense balanced which was one of our goals because in 2016 we had a really hard time running the football. We ended up throwing for over 1,400 yards and rushing for 1,350 yards, which is about as balanced as you can get. With all that being said though, I think a great foundation has been laid for where we are trying to get this program.”

Eleven seniors played the final game of their UCHS football careers in Knoxville on Friday. 

“They’ve been great,” Rice said of the senior class. “They showed great leadership and an unbelievable commitment to this program. We ask the guys that don’t play other sports to commit five days a week from January through November. In today’s world, that’s rare to find young people willing to give that much of themselves for such a long period of time. It speaks to what kind of young men they are.

“We talk a lot about this game preparing them for life after high school, and how the values they have learned playing this game will be with them for the rest of their lives. Myself and the coaching staff look forward to seeing what comes next for these seniors as they begin the next chapter of their lives.”

The seniors are Thomas Bryant, Bradley Edwards, Matthew Hatcher, Hunter Higgins, Gabe Miller, Owen Nicholson, Scott Owens, Troy Podvin, Hunter Rice, Michael Smith and Christian Yoakley.

Blue Devils fall to ‘Horns, will face Austin-East in playoffs

Brett Strother is surrounded by Johnson County defenders during the Blue Devils’ loss in Mountain City on Friday, Oct. 27. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School football team fought hard, but couldn’t make plays when they needed to in order to earn a win – one that would have given them a share of the Region 1-AAA regular season title – last week.

The Blue Devils (5-5, 3-2) closed out the regular season with a 28-14 loss to Johnson County (10-0, 5-0) in Mountain City on Friday, Oct. 27.

“I am proud of the fight we showed,” UCHS head coach Drew Rice said. “Johnson County is a very good football team and I thought we went toe-to-toe with them. We just had some turnovers at the wrong time, and had some things that didn’t go our way.”

The Blue Devils started the game off on a negative note – with a fumble on the opening kickoff. This gave the Longhorns great field position; however, the UCHS defense held strong and kept Johnson County off the scoreboard.

Throughout the quarter, the teams traded possessions until the Longhorns took advantage of their interception to score on a 70-yard touchdown pass by Nathan Arnold with 8 seconds to play in the quarter. The point-after attempt (PAT) was blocked and Johnson County took a 6-0 lead.

The Longhorns snagged another interception in the second quarter, which set up their second score of the half, this time on a 21-yard pass from Arnold to Payton Fenner. The Longhorns’ 2-point conversion attempt failed and the score was 12-0with 3 minutes to play in the half.

The Blue Devils finally got things going offensively. After quarterback Brock Thompson hit Owen Nicholson on a 21-yard pass, he hit Brett Strother for an 18-yard gain to get UCHS down to the 11-yard line. Thompson then completed passes to Hunter Higgins before the Blue Devils scored on a handoff to Strother. Martin Porras converted the PAT and UCHS was back in the game, trailing only 12-7.

“The touchdown before the half was huge,” Rice said. “I felt like despite being down 12-7, we had the momentum going into the half.”

After forcing the Longhorns to punt on their first possession of the third quarter, things began to unravel for the Blue Devils. A penalty against UCHS backed them up against the goal line and led to a safety by the Longhorns for a 14-7 lead with just under 6 minutes to play in the quarter.

UCHS then had to kick off to Johnson County. The Blue Devil defense forced the Longhorns into a third-and-8, but just as they would do most of the game, the Longhorns found a way to keep their drive alive.

“They found a way to move the chains on third down,” Rice said. “We would get them to third-and-8 or third-and-7 and they would complete a 9-yard pass. It’s definitely frustrating, but I have to tip my hat to them because that’s why they are 10-0.”

The Longhorns scored when Arnold found Gage Hampton from 1-yard out. Tyler Norris converted the PAT and Johnson County took a 21-7 lead with 1 minute to play in the half.

The Blue Devils wouldn’t have possession long – a fumble was recovered by the Longhorns near midfield to give them the ball back to start the fourth quarter.

“In the second half, the fumble we had really hurt us,” Rice said.

Once again, Johnson County took advantage of the turnover – this time on a 5-play scoring drive to take a 28-7 lead with 11 minutes to play in the game.

Just as they have done all season, the Blue Devils kept fighting to get back in the game. They responded on their next possession with a quarterback sneak by Thompson. Porras hit the PAT and UCHS had a chance with just under 8 minutes to play.

The Blue Devil defense forced the Longhorns to punt and UCHS got the ball back with 5-and-a-half minutes to go on their own 25-yard line. On several plays during the drive UCHS receivers could not come down with the ball.

“We had a couple drops at some inopportune times,” Rice said.

Facing fourth-and-5 with just over 2 minutes to play, the Blue Devils went for it, but came up just short. Johnson County regained possession and ran out the clock to win, 28-14.

“They made the plays in those crucial moments that we didn’t,” Rice said. Third-and-7 is a crucial moment in a game like that, whether it’s on offense or defense. We had some terrible dropped balls, too. Which is frustrating, because we haven’t had a lot of those all year.”

Despite the loss, Rice said he was encouraged by how hard his team played.

“I thought Matthew Hatcher and Shane Armstrong played their tails off defensively,” he said. “Matthew got his leg bruised up pretty good in the first half and played the entire second half despite it. He showed a whole lot of toughness Friday night. I thought our offensive line did a good job of picking up all the pressure they were bringing as well.”

Rice also thinks the grit his team displayed is evidence of how the program has grown this season.

“I hope it’s a sign that we are headed in the right direction as a program,” Rice said. “I have to say, that all year these guys have never once quit fighting. I really do like where the culture of our team is right now – these guys love one another and that’s something we spend a lot of time talking about. We tell them that football won’t last forever, but these relationships they are building with each other will.”

The Blue Devils had 177 yards of offense on Friday – 123 in the air and 54 on the ground.

Thompson completed 14-25 passes for 123 yards and rushed for 1 touchdown. Strother had 6 catches for 55 yards and 7 carries for 18 yards and 1 touchdown. Lewis had 8 carries for 33 yards. Nicholson had 3 catches for 27 yards. Higgins had 1 catch for 13 yards.

Johnson County had 263 yards of offense – 182 passing and 81 rushing.

Michael Smith and Nicholson each had 15 tackles in the loss. Hatcher had 12, Noah White and had 11, Bradley Edwards had 11, Armstrong had 9, Lewis had 9, Higgins had 6, Strother had 6 and Drew Williams had 5.

• • •

The loss to Johnson County put the Blue Devils in third place in the region and set up a first round playoff matchup with Austin-East on Friday, Nov. 3, in Knoxville.

“They are an extremely talented football team,” Rice said of the Roadrunners. “They went 8-2 in one of the best regions in the state. We are going to have to play fast and take care of the football. We have to control the line of scrimmage and keep the chains moving.”

Kickoff for the Nov. 3 game is set for 7 p.m.

Season ends for cross country teams

By Keeli Parkey

The 2017 cross country season ended for the runners of Unicoi County High School at the region meet held at Daniel Boone High School on Thursday, Oct. 26. The Blue Devils and Lady Devils were competing against some of the largest schools in the region for spots in the upcoming state meet.

Unfortunately for head coach Thad Higgins and his runners, no UCHS athlete qualified for the state meet.

“Although we did not have anyone qualify for state this year, we did have several standout performances,” Higgins said. “We talked before the race about the importance of being proud of your accomplishment no matter what time you ran, and I really think that each of our athletes was proud of the effort that he or she gave Thursday.”

As he did throughout the season, junior John Campbell led the way for the Blue Devils, finishing the region meet in a time of 19:24. Sophomore Darren Soulier finished the race with a time of 19:32 – just one second off his personal record. Freshman Jordan Bridges finished with a time of 20:55. Senior Sergio Vidrio finished with a time of 27:01.

“To put Sergio’s time in perspective, his time of 27 minutes is nearly a 4 minute improvement from his first run of the season,” Higgins said. “I am extremely proud of the effort he put in throughout the season.”

For the Lady Devil squad, sophomore Cheyenne Wilson was the only varsity finisher, according to Higgins; she completed the race in a time of 23:02.

“It’s significant that she easily finished in the top half of the competitors in a race that had 114 finishers and the largest schools in the area,” Higgins said. “I am very proud of her for her performance.”

Freshman Sabrina Todd and senior Melodie Bocock represented UCHS in the junior varsity race last week.

“They both had exceptional races,” Higgins said. “Sabrina Todd and Melodie Bocock both ran in the Junior Varsity race, and had exceptional races. Sabrina ran her best time of the season by far with a time of 24:21 and had a ninth place finish. Melodie also pushed herself to a personal record. Her time was nearly two minutes faster than her previous time at 37:54. Furthermore, this time is 7 minutes faster than her first race time of the season.”

Even though no runners advanced to the state meet, Higgins said he was proud of what they accomplished this season.

“Overall, I was extremely happy with this season – the effort, and performance of the athletes,” Higgins said. “We really had a great year this season, in which we were able to have fun as a team and still be very competitive at our races. Of course, the goal is always to get better and I believe that this season has really laid the foundation for an even better performance next year.”

The program’s seniors – Megan Todd, Vidrio and Bocock – have provided important leadership, according to Higgins.

“One of the things that I think has really set us up well to have a great year next cross country season is the performance and leadership of our seniors this year,” Higgins said. “Megan came into this season with the experience of three previous state championship races under her belt. She really took this experience and knowledge and applied it to the rest of the team this year. There were several times that I had other members of the team work with Megan so that she could show them different aspects of running, such as having her show another runner how to run the pace they needed to run. Furthermore, she was always watching and willing to help her teammates if they were struggling with a particular drill or workout that we did. She has been a true boon to this team and we are so proud of her accomplishments and we look forward to the wonderful things she will achieve in the future.

“Melodie and Sergio both came to the cross country team with no previous running experience and still they stuck it out through nearly five months of cross country training,” Higgins continued. “It was a wonderful experience to watch both Melodie and Sergio mature, both as runners and as leaders, during this season. Both of these athletes were splitting their time between cross country and other extracurriculars. … The dedication of these seniors really set a tone throughout this season for the younger athletes that I believe will have lasting effects in this program. I can’t wait to see what opportunities the future holds for these three seniors.”

Higgins said he would like to express his appreciation to all the individuals who supported his runners this season.

“I would just like to thank the community so much for their continued support throughout this year,” he said. “It would be impossible to run a cross country team without the support of the community and we recognize and value that. If you see any of these athletes around make sure that you let them know you’ve been keeping up with them, and congratulate them on a great season.”

After bye week, Blue Devil football team ready to face Johnson County

Blue Devil football head coach Drew Rice talks with players during a game earlier this season. Rice will lead his team to Johnson County to face the Longhorns on Friday, Oct. 27. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

After a week to rest from game action, the Blue Devils are preparing to play the most important game of the season when they travel to Mountain City to battle Johnson County on Friday, Oct. 27.

“The bye week is always nice to heal up some and hopefully ensure us coming out at full tilt Friday night,” head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record. “We feel like we have a good game plan in place, we just need to have a good week of practice now.”

The Longhorns (9-0, 4-0) currently sit atop the Region 1-AAA league. The Blue Devils (5-4, 3-1) and the West Greene Buffaloes (5-4, 3-1) are currently tied for the league’s second spot. West Greene defeated UCHS, 23-15, in Erwin on Oct. 13. Johnson County defeated West Greene, 28-21, on Sept. 15.

The Blue Devils have already qualified for the playoffs and will be playing a postseason game on Nov. 3.; however, the opponent and location of that game will depend on the results of this Friday’s games. The best thing the UCHS football team can do to help itself is beat Johnson County – a task easier said than done.

“They are a good football team, no question,” Rice said of the Longhorns. “They are having a special year; they have a boat load of seniors who have played a lot of football together.

“It’s going to take a complete effort to get the win,” Rice continued. “We are going to have to execute our game plan on both sides of the ball and win the turnover battle. I think we match up well with their speed. We have played the teams in our league, excluding West Greene, as good or better than they have, so we feel good about the matchup. Beating them last year to get in the playoffs I think is a big deal, too, because our guys believe they can win. A lot of them had to play in that game last year due to us having some guys out, so that experience is extremely valuable.”

Win or lose at Johnson County on Friday, the Blue Devils cannot finish lower than third in the region. According to Rice, Friday’s results could play out in three ways:

• If the Blue Devils defeat the Longhorns and Chuckey-Doak beats West Greene, UCHS will win the region and be the top seed for the playoffs. This seed would mean the Blue Devils would face either Northview Academy or Pigeon Forge in Erwin in the first round of the playoffs on Nov. 3.

• If the Blue Devils defeat the Longhorns and West Greene beats Chuckey-Doak there would be a three-way tie for first place in the region and UCHS would have a share of the region championship. However, according to Rice, with the tiebreakers for the playoff seeding the Blue Devils would be the number 3 seed and would most likely have to travel to Austin East for the first round of the playoffs.

• If the Blue Devils lose to Johnson County – regardless of what happens in other league games – UCHS would finish third and have to travel to Austin East for a playoff game on Nov. 3.

Rice said he believes his team will be ready to take on the Longhorns on Friday.

“We always talk about believing in our preparation and we try to make that a huge emphasis,” Rice said. “Our mantra all year has been, ‘Champions behave like champions before they are champions.’ So we have tried to take that to heart, and it’s pretty cool to see these guys and our program have that opportunity to make that a reality after talking about it for so long.”

UCHS cross country teams run in conference meet

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School cross country runners took to the course at Steele Creek in Bristol on Thursday, Oct. 19, for the Big 11 Conference meet.

The Blue Devils raced without lead runner John Campbell, according to head coach Thad Higgins.

“We did have a few injuries that hampered performances or even kept the athletes out of the race this week,” Higgins said. “John needed some extra time to recuperate this week in order to prepare for regionals, but he should be returning for Thursday’s race.”

The Blue Devils who were able to compete – Darren Soulier, Jordan Bridges and Sergio Vidrio – turned in solid performances, Higgins said.

“All three of the guys ran a great race,” he added. “They all set course records for themselves and Jordan even set a new 5K personal record for himself.”

Cheyenne Wilson led the way for the Lady Devils at the conference meet, according to Higgins.

“Cheyenne finished first for the girls and was only 10 seconds off her personal record,” he added. “Megan Todd finished second, with her sister Sabrina Todd close behind her. Another big standout was Melodie Bocock who bested her old time by almost 5 minutes. Melodie was new to the team this year and has really pushed herself to be better at every race. This was a real struggle for her because she is also a varsity cheerleader and has had to split her practice time between cross country and cheerleading.”

The UCHS runners will compete for state berths on Thursday, Oct. 26, in the region meet at Daniel Boone High School.

“With only our state qualifier left the focus of the team this week will be to make sure they stay healthy and are as fresh as possible,” Higgins said. “We have already run the regional course once this year and our returning runners have run it several times; so I’m very optimistic that each runner will be able to run a smart race.

“This is something that we focused on at the conference race as well. It’s tempting to just take off at the starting line and try to win the race in the first 100 meters; however, a smart runner will conserve that energy and use it later in the race. Since we’ve been working on some of these smaller things, I’m hoping to see them play out more at our race Thursday. This has been a great season with a lot of growth from each athlete, and I’m excited to see how they finish it out, or even move on, Thursday afternoon.”

Blue Devil football team falls to West Greene

Above, Troy Podvin tries to gain yards after a catch against West Greene. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

There was a lot on the line when the Unicoi County High School football team (5-4, 3-1) hosted the West Greene Buffaloes (5-3, 3-1) on Friday, Oct. 13, at Gentry Stadium in Erwin, including a home playoff game and a winning record for the season.

Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, they did not start this game as well as they have games in previous weeks.

“It was very disappointing,” head coach Drew Rice said. “It’s the first time since the beginning of the year that we didn’t have a strong start. I thought our guys fought hard to come back and win it, but it was too little, too late. We can’t dig ourselves into a hole like that against good teams.”

After forcing West Greene to turn the ball over on downs, the Blue Devil offense reached the red zone thanks, in part, to a 37-yard run by Kody Lewis.

“I thought Kody played lights out on both sides of the ball,” Rice said. “He is really coming into his own. For a sophomore, he is about as complete of a football player as you could ask for.”

West Greene kept UCHS out of the end zone and took over on downs with 7 minutes to play in the first quarter. The Buffaloes then put together their first scoring drive of the game for a 7-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Things began to go West Greene’s way in the second quarter as the Buffaloes continued to contain the Blue Devil offense.

“They took away the two things that we have had the most success with, the deep ball and the wide run to the outside,” Rice said. “They had a good game plan and they executed it well.”

The Buffaloes took a 10-0 lead on a field goal with 4 minutes to play in the half.

The Blue Devils were forced to punt on their next possession; however, a penalty for roughing the kicker kept the drive alive. Lewis had a carry and Brock Thompson completed a pass to Noah White to get the Blue Devils into Buffaloes territory before Juliun Lane intercepted the ball and returned it for a touchdown with 1 minute to play in the half. The Buffaloes went for 2, but failed. West Greene took a commanding 16-0 lead into the break.

“Brock hasn’t played like a freshman all year,” Rice said. “We had some miscommunication on a couple of those throws that weren’t his fault. In football and in life, there are growing pains. He is still 5-2 as a starting quarterback which is tremendous for anyone, much less a freshman. He is a special kid, he will bounce back in a big way. I have all the confidence in the world in him.”

Due to injuries, a few key players for UCHS could not play in the second half.

“Not having Owen Nicholson and Hunter Higgins in the second half was a huge blow for us,” Rice said. “Those guys don’t come off the field for us normally. Neither of the injuries were serious though, and we think we will be 100 percent healthy heading up to Johnson County for a huge game for our program, which is all you can ask for this time of year.”

Things weren’t looking good for the Blue Devils when the third quarter started. After forcing UCHS to punt on the first possession of the quarter, West Greene scored again for a 23-0 lead with 7 minutes to play in the quarter.

The Blue Devils could have given up, but they didn’t, and began their comeback on their next possession. Following runs by Lewis and a pass by Thompson to Troy Podvin, Thompson hit Brett Strother for a 59-yard touchdown. Martin Porras converted the point-after attempt and the Blue Devils trailed 23-7 with just under 5 minutes to play in the third.

The UCHS defense came alive in the third and fourth quarters – holding the Buffaloes scoreless the rest of the game. The Blue Devils got on the scoreboard again with just over 5 minutes to play when Thompson hit Podvin from 21 yards out for a touchdown. UCHS went for 2 and scored for a 23-15 score.

Porras pinned West Greene deep in Blue Devil territory on the ensuing kick off. The Blue Devils forced the Buffaloes into fourth-and-14 and got a sack, but a facemask penalty allowed West Greene to maintain possession. On the next play, however, Shane Armstrong and Matthew Hatcher got to the quarterback again and forced a fumble that Armstrong recovered.

“We had some kids give unbelievable efforts,” Rice said. “Shane Armstrong came back from a knee injury and played like he hadn’t missed a snap all year. He is a rock solid kid.”

The Blue Devils had the ball, and a chance to tie the game with 3 minutes to play, but an interception ended the drive.

The UCHS defense again held West Greene in check and the Blue Devils got the ball back at midfield with 1:22 to play. On first down, Thompson pitched the ball to Strother who took aim downfield at Bradley Edwards. Again, Lane came away with an interception to seal the victory for West Greene. The Buffaloes won the game, 23-15.

“We have taken care of the ball so well since the first couple games,” Rice said. “It was frustrating to hand the ball over to them repeatedly like we did.”

Despite the loss, Rice said he was proud of the way his team battled back.

“I definitely think that’s the silver lining,” he said. “We don’t believe in moral victories. However, we were down 23-0 and ended up having two different chances to tie the ballgame up in the fourth quarter. I think it shows the shift in culture that we have been looking for. These kids are beginning to believe they are going to win, regardless of what the score is. Now we have to eliminate the turnovers and penalties that put us in such a hole early, but we as a staff are extremely proud of the grit they showed.”

Thompson was 11-23 passing for 153 yards, 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Strother had 2 catches for 69 yards and a touchdown; he also rushed for 22 yards on 5 carries. Podvin had 4 catches for 41 yards and a touchdown. White had 3 catches for 31 yards. Lewis had 102 yards on 14 carries.

Michael Smith led the Blue Devil defense with 17 tackles. Hatcher, Armstrong and Drew Williams each recorded a sack in the game.

• • •

The loss to West Greene puts a home playoff game in question, but not out of reach, for the Blue Devils.

“It hurts because that one could have locked up a winning season and the home playoff game,” Rice said. “However, all of our goals are still on the table, we just need a little bit of help now. We are already in the playoffs and cannot finish less than third regardless of how the last week goes. If we win at Johnson County, and Chuckey-Doak beats West Greene, we would still win the region and host a playoff game for the first time since 1991.”

The Blue Devils have a bye this week and won’t play again until Friday, Oct. 27, when they travel to Johnson County (8-0, 4-0) for a matchup with the Longhorns – the league’s only undefeated team.

“We strategically put the bye week here for this reason,” Rice said. “To have a week to rest and heal up a little bit is huge going into a game like this with a potential championship on the line. We are going to practice three days and continue to lift and get stronger in the weight room.”

The Blue Devils and Longhorns last played during the final week of the 2016 season when UCHS won 28-14 in Erwin.

“They are a great football team,” Rice said of the Longhorns. “They have 22 seniors and this is the team they have talked about for a long time up there. However, our guys are still very confident. Beating them last year at home, to get in the playoffs, was huge for the mentality of our guys because historically we have had a hard time beating them.

“We are going to have to have two great weeks of preparation and we are going to have to put together the most complete effort we have had all year to go up there and win. We are very excited about the opportunity though, and feel very blessed to be playing for a potential championship this late in the year. It’s a real testament to these young men.”

Runners compete in Trailblazer Invitational

By Keeli Parkey

After a hiatus, the Unicoi County High School cross country teams returned to competition over the weekend when the Blue Devil and Lady Devil runners competed at Daniel Boone High School on Saturday, Oct. 14.

“The Trailblazer Invitational was our first race back after having two weeks to do some recovery training and focus on a few things that needed to be tweaked,” head coach Thad Higgins told The Erwin Record. “This was an important race for us because it will also be the site of our regional race. Our runners ran very well, and we even had a couple new personal records set.”

John Campbell led the way for the Blue Devils on Saturday.

“John’s time of 19:15 is just 6 seconds away from his personal record, so we’re very excited about how he’ll use this momentum at the conference race,” Higgins said.

Darren Soulier completed the race in 20 minutes; Jordan Bridges turned in a time of 21:07; and Sergio Vidrio finished with a time of 27:02.

“Darren finished close behind John,” Higgins said. “As far as improvement goes our big standouts this week were Jordan and Sergio. They both set new personal records for themselves; Jordan improved by more than 20 seconds, while Sergio improved his time from our last race by over a minute.”

Megan Todd was the top finisher for the Lady Devils, completing the course with a time of 22:28. Cheyenne Wilson kept pace with Todd, finishing in 22:47. Sabrina Todd raced to a time of 25:34.

“The girls also ran a great race in spite of recently having to deal with some injuries,” Higgins said. Megan came across first for the Lady Devils with Cheyenne and Sabrina following close behind.”

Awaiting the Blue Devils and Lady Devils is the conference meet on Thursday, Oct. 19, at Steele Creek Park in Bristol. This will be the first time UCHS runners will compete as members of the Big 11 Conference.

“I look forward to seeing how we stack up against this new competition,” Higgins said. “I’m very excited for the race.”

The runners are prepared for the meet, according to Higgins.

“For the most part I think we’re where we want to be as far as performance and practice goes,” he said. “Of course, we always want to see faster times and improvement across the board; however, effort is often more important to see since it’s difficult to compare races that have varying terrain and levels of difficulty.

“For the last few weeks of practice we will be tapering down our runs and distance to make sure that we’re healthy and well rested for our final races,” Higgins continued. “We’ll also still be focusing a lot on pacing and what’s expected throughout the race from each runner. Our work with pacing yielded great results just this last week as Jordan and Sergio both ran the exact splits that they were supposed to run throughout the race. It has been really rewarding to see these athletes mature together and learn to run a smarter race.”

Devils dominate Rangers

Above, Austin O’Dell catches a touchdown pass during the Blue Devils’ 64-30 win over Unaka last week. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

It took only 19 seconds for the Unicoi County High School football team (5-3, 3-0) to assert its dominance over Unaka on Friday, Oct. 6, at Erwin’s Gentry Stadium as the team cruised to a 64-30 victory.

“I thought we played well and executed our game plan,” Blue Devil head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record.

An 82-yard return on the opening kickoff by Kody Lewis setup a 4-yard touchdown run by Brett Strother. Martin Porras converted the point-after attempt (PAT) and UCHS held a 7-0 less than 30 seconds into the game.

The Blue Devil offense played efficiently the entire first half.

“We executed the game plan and took care of the ball,” Rice said. “That’s what we ask of our guys and that’s what they did. We have multiple guys who are weapons on our offense, we just have to continue to get the ball in their hands.”

The Blue Devil defense showed it had control of the game during Unaka’s first possession, forcing the Rangers to punt. Despite a few long passes the Rangers converted during the game, the UCHS defense kept Unaka in check, especially during the first half.

“I thought our first team defense played really well,” Rice said. “They didn’t give up a score while they were in there. We had a couple plays get behind us in the first half, but we got it fixed at half time.”

The defense played so well during the first half that they kept the Rangers off the scoreboard. While the UCHS defense did its job, the Blue Devil offense continued to roll, scoring four more touchdowns in the first two quarters. The scoring plays came on a 7-yard run by Strother, a 46-yard pass from quarterback Brock Thompson to Troy Podvin, a 9-yard run by Lewis and 10-yard pass from Thompson to Austin O’Dell.

“Brock is still throwing extremely well, while continuing to take care of the ball has been huge for our offense and our team,” Rice said. “Our offensive line continues to move people.”

The final UCHS touchdown of the first half came thanks to Bradley Edwards’ fumble recovery and 29-yard run into the end zone.

“I don’t know if any one play stood out more than another, but I do think that the way we consistently moved the ball on offense and got stops on defense was good to see,” Rice said. “Anytime you’re up 42-0 at the half, chances are you’ve executed pretty well.”

Thanks to his team’s significant lead, Rice was able to utilize players who typically don’t see varsity minutes during the second half against Unaka.

“It was good to get some young guys some playing time,” Rice said. “I thought our young guys played extremely well. All the second half scores were from sophomores. It’s great to see guys like Tanner VanHoy and Diego Diaz have success. We know they are going to be a big part of our program in the next two-and-a-half years and seeing them play like they did Friday only reaffirms that.”

The Blue Devils and Rangers both scored multiple touchdowns in the second half, but this game was essentially over at halftime. UCHS won the non-conference contest, 64-30.

Thompson completed 9-13 passes for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns in the win. Owen Nicholson caught 3 passes for 76 yards. Podvin caught 2 passes for 61 yards and 1 touchdown. Strother caught 2 passes for 22 yards. Edwards had 1 catch for 11 yards. O’Dell had 1 catch for 10 yards and 1 touchdown.

Lewis had 8 carries for 87 yards and 2 touchdowns. Diaz had 1 carry for 64 yards and 1 touchdown. Strother had 4 carries for 47 yards and 2 touchdowns. Michael Smith had 3 carries for 27 yards. Vanhoy had 5 carries for 20 yards and 1 touchdown. Easton Edwards had 3 carries for 14 yards.

Smith led the Blue Devil defense against Unaka.

“Michael was all over the field defensively and he was a force in the middle,” Rice said. “He had 10 tackles and 4 of them were for a loss. He played fantastic.”

Noah White also had 8 tackles in the win.

• • •

A very significant game – with a lot on the line – awaits the Blue Devils this week.

UCHS will host region opponent West Greene on Friday, Oct. 13, at 7:30 p.m. at Gentry Stadium. With a win, the Blue Devils will secure a home playoff game; however, a loss could send UCHS on the road in the first round of the postseason depending on the results of the final weeks of play. The Blue Devils secured a playoff berth with their win at Chuckey-Doak on Sept. 29.

“West Greene is a really good football team,” Rice said. “They probably have the best player in the region on their team. For us to be successful, we have to keep him and their offense contained. They are big up front, so our offensive and defensive lines are going to have to bring great intensity and effort for us to continue to be successful.”

Rice asked that fans come out and support his team this week.

“We just want to stress the significance of this game,” he said. “We had three goals to begin the season: win six or more games; host a playoff game; and win the region. Winning this Friday would check off two of those three goals.

“These guys have made that their mission and I think it’s motivated them every week. We would love to see a huge crowd for this game Friday night. It’s senior night, with a whole lot on the line. These young men deserve all the support we can give them.”

Senior night recognition will begin around 7 p.m. on Friday.

Soulier competes at state meet

By Keeli Parkey

In her second consecutive trip to the TMSAA Cross Country State Championship, Unicoi County Middle School eighth grader Marissa Soulier improved her final spot by more than 10 places.

The Jr. Lady Devil runner finished in 39th place during the 2016 state meet. In the 2017 race, which was run on a 2-mile course on Saturday, Oct. 7, in Clarksville, Soulier finished in 25th place with a time of 14:02 while racing in a field of 106 racers.

“Only the best come to run at the TMSAA Cross Country State Championship,” UCMS head cross country coach Lydia Hilliard told The Erwin Record. “Every runner is extremely competitive and strives to do their personal best.”

Hilliard said she was very pleased with Soulier’s results at the state meet and for her middle school running career.

“I am very proud of all of her accomplishments,” Hilliard said. “Marissa has such fortitude and is strong in mind and body. She loves the sport and is looking forward to next season at UCHS. I will miss Marissa and her leadership abilities. I know more great things are to come for her in this awesome sport of cross country.”

Golfers wrap up links competition

By Keeli Parkey

The 2017 golf season came to an end for the Unicoi County High School golf teams in the district competition played at Tri-Cities Golf Club in Blountville on Sept. 18.

As a team, the Blue Devils found themselves in last place against a field that included Science Hill, Tennessee High and Dobyns-Bennett. UCHS posted a team score of 526 in the match. Individual scores included: 124 by Ty Thelen, 126 by Caleb Adkins; 147 by Noah Tilson; and 129 by Nicholas Hensley.

“The group of guys battled through,” UCHS head coach Gene Renfro told The Erwin Record. “The conference gave them a preview of what to expect at the district. This is just another building block for them. Many of them are coming from other sports and on this day they had to walk five miles and compete for five hours too against some strong competition. I believe they learned to persevere throughout the process.”

Renfro had set a goal of breaking a 200 team score for the Lady Devils at the district match, but the team fell just short, scoring 226. Individual results for the Lady Devils included Alana Peel’s 106 and Grace Ann Clark’s 120.

“The girls wrapped up the season strong, but a bad hole here and there derailed that goal,” Renfro said. “I am proud of them for competing hard throughout the season.”

Renfro’s first season at the helm of the UCHS golf program had its share of ups and downs – with most of the downs coming at the hands of Mother Nature.

“The first season always could have been better,” Renfro said. “We lost numerous matches due to rain which would have been more time to improve. Unfortunately we cannot control that. I feel like next season the returnees will have an idea of what to expect and will be able to hit the ground running. I feel like we have the most athletic team in the conference. With that the team is very coachable and it was a pleasure to coach them this season.”

Renfro said he saw both squads make strides during the season.

“From day one the guys improved,” he added. “It might not have shown every day, but things here and there. Having the base now and, hopefully, a fire to improve between now and next season we can have dramatic improvements come 2018. The girls had numerous improvements from day one. I feel like their course knowledge improved and their short game as well. The group learned a lot this year. Now we need to build upon that between now and July. On the bus ride home after the District I told them next season starts now.”