By Trey Williams
The Unicoi County High School girls basketball team was picked to finish last in the rugged Three Rivers Conference, but had the last word in its first league game on Friday, Dec. 6, at Happy Valley.
Guard Tenley Holt rebounded a missed free throw with five seconds remaining and drove the length of the court for a buzzer-beating, conference-opening 55-53 victory against the Warriors.
“Ashtan (Vance) got a good box-out, and that allowed Tenley to come up with the ball,” Lady Devil head coach Kerri King said. “I think there was like 4.8 seconds left, and she drove the length of the floor and laid it in for us. I knew if she had a clear lane and enough time to get to the rim that was our best shot at getting a score. Ashtan did a really good job of boxing out anybody that could come up with the rebound for them low, and Tenley just kind of swept in and got it and took off with it. Tenley’s got an instinct for finding the rim.”
It was all instinct at crunch time.
“She (Vance) tipped it to me and the adrenaline (surged) when she tipped it to me – just running down the court and seeing it wide open,” Holt said. “As soon as I put the ball down I looked up at the clock and could hear Coach King yelling, ‘Get a shot up.’ I was going as fast as I could to get down the court, and when I saw the court open up it felt really good to see the lane wide open.”
Holt is well aware of the fact that the Blue Devils were picked last in the league. King posted it in the locker room. Unicoi was picked sixth last season and finished third.
“I have a really big chip on my shoulder,” Holt said. “Knowing we were picked last, it makes me more pumped and excited to show we shouldn’t be picked last.”
The Lady Devils (1-0, 6-3) defeated Chuckey-Doak, 67-28, at home on Saturday, Dec. 7, ending the week with back-to-back victories after respective losses Tuesday, Dec. 3, and Wednesday, Dec. 4, at Cloudland (48-43) and North Buncombe, North Carolina (74-64).
Holt scored 20 points at North Buncombe and finished with 22 at Happy Valley. She had 12 against Chuckey-Doak and nine at Cloudland.
King wasn’t surprised to see Holt, who has been seasoned by an older brother, deliver in the Three Rivers opener.
“Tenley likes a broken-down game,” King said. “She excels whenever she’s scrapping and playing. She’s played a lot of pickup basketball with her brother. She’s very scrappy and a tough kid. She’s been here long enough that she feels really comfortable with her teammates, and I think she’s doing a great job for us.”
Holt has been part of a Big Three, if you will, along with Caroline Podvin and Vance. Podvin scored 58 points in four games last week, including 17 at North Buncombe. Vance and Podvin scored 18 and 16, respectively, against Chuckey-Doak.
“I think Caroline, Tenley and Ashtan all are (versatile),” King said, “and they’re looking to set each other up and get other people involved.”
King has been relatively pleased with her team’s performance while meshing new pieces against a taxing schedule. The Three Rivers Conference looks to be an unforgiving challenge this season, too.
“North Buncombe has a Division I signee at UNC Asheville,” King said. “They were undefeated when we played them. Cloudland had one loss, and it was to South Greene in overtime. Our three losses are to Cloudland, North Buncombe and Greeneville, and Greeneville actually beat South Greene the other night by one. …
“We’re gonna have to find a happy medium between pushing pace and being able to execute when it’s time to execute. Right now we’re having trouble with that because we have a rotation that’s never really played together. We’ve got young people coming in. So having that composure when we need to and playing free the rest of the time – that balance is hard for us right now.”
That said, the Blue Devils are 1-0 in the Three Rivers Conference.
“It was good because we are coming out as underdogs, and it brought a lot of emotion to us,” Holt said. “We really needed that win after the losses we had before that (at Cloudland and North Buncombe). And it was just exciting to know we could stick together at the end.”
UCHS hosted Hampton on Tuesday, Dec. 10, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. They will retun to league play with a home game against Sullivan South on Friday, Dec. 13. The junior varsity team will play at 4 p.m., followed by the varsity squad at 6:30 p.m.