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Experience returns for UCHS tennis program

The 2019 Unicoi County High School Lady Devil tennis team includes, back row, pictured from left, Taylor Thomas, Katlyn Higgins, Katherine Altemose, Kate Hollenbeck and head coach Johnathan Kenney; front row, Natalia Hernandez, Lily Hollenbeck, Meagan Buskey and Bernice Luquin; not pictured, Brandolyn Thomas and Lydia McNabb. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)
The 2019 Unicoi County High School Blue Devil tennis team includes, pictured from left, Daniel Shults, Ben Hensley, Austin O’Dell, Shane Armstrong, Aaron Manzanares and head coach Johnathan Kenney; not pictured, Ty Thelen and Matthew Sutphin. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

Despite a preseason that was less than ideal, head coach Johnathan Kenney is hopeful that the 2019 tennis season will be a strong one for the Unicoi County High School squads.

“We have had a few kids go take some private lessons and had a few practices,” Kenney told The Erwin Record. “Weather has been really rough on us to start the season; between the wet weather and only having two courts, it has been a struggle.”

Luckily, the team has a mix of experienced players and new athletes, which Kenney said will be assets

“Four of our seven boys and eight of our 10 girls are returning players. So, experience this year is stronger for us than it was last year,” Kenney said. “We were able to get some multi-sport athletes to come out this year, and I believe that will prove to be a big help.”

Leading the way for the Lady Devils will be junior Brandonlyn Thomas and senior Taylor Thomas.

“I expect Brandolyn and Taylor to play well for us this year and be competitive in most of their matches,” Kenney said. “(Junior) Kate (Hollenbeck) has shown some improvement also, and is looking to move up in the roster.”

Also on the ladies’ team this season are: senior Katherine Altemose, sophomore Meagan Buskey, junior Natalia Hernandez, junior Katlyn Higgins, freshman Lily Hollenbeck, junior Bernice Luquin and junior Lydia McNabb. 

Seniors Aaron Manzanares and Ben Hensley are expected to lead the way for the Blue Devils.

“Aaron has really improved and Ben is also a competitive player for us,” Kenney said. “I also expect (senior) Shane Armstrong and (senior) Austin O’Dell to contribute early. (Sophomores) Daniel Shults and Matthew Sutphin have both improved from last year, and (senior) Ty Thelen is getting better every day.”

The Blue Devils and Lady Devils will compete in a conference against Tennessee High, Dobyns-Bennett, Science Hill, Sullivan Central, Volunteer, Sullivan South, Sullivan East and Elizabethton.

“Some big matches for us will be Sullivan Central, Elizabethton, Sullivan East and then our non-conference schedule,” Kenney said.

The head coach expects his squads to rise to the challenges of this season.

“I expect us to be competitive in most of our matches this year,” Kenney said. “Tennessee High, Science Hill and Dobyns-Bennett are all very tough teams to play with. But after that, I hope that we can compete strongly against the rest of the teams on our schedule.”

The UCHS netters were scheduled to travel to Science Hill on Tuesday, March 19. The Lady Devils are scheduled to host Happy Valley on Tuesday, March 26, at Fishery Park. Both teams are scheduled to compete at Volunteer on March 28.