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.