By Trey Williams
The rebuilding Unicoi County volleyball could be all set to go before long.
The Lady Devils split a pair of matches last week, and coach Shelley Swinehart saw significant improvement in the connection between first-year setter Olivia Bailey and hitters Shelby Miller and Savannah Sparks.
Unicoi defeated KACHEA 3-1 on Aug. 24 before falling 3-0 to tradition-rich Sullivan South the following day.
Miller tallied team highs in kills in both matches (11 against KACHEA and 10 against South).
“She’s gonna stand out all season for us,” Swinehart said. “And that’s where her growth is gonna come from – learning to be the one that can carry the team. Your good athletes have to learn to play with that pressure and that expectation, and she is willing to do that and wanting to do that. That’s one of the areas she’s growing. And she’s excited to be that ‘When we need a point, we’re coming to you.’
“And other teams know that. It’s not any secret.”
Bailey, a sophomore, seems to get more comfortable with every point. She set some in middle school and filled in there on the freshman team last year, but played right-side hitter and blocker on the varsity team as a freshman.
“She doesn’t do club ball,” Swinehart said. “She plays basketball and tennis. So she’s always busy doing other sports, which I’m absolutely fine with and encourage my players to do. …
“She is so competitive and she’s so smart. I noticed that about her last year as a freshman. She just read the court very well.”
Miller and Sparks are getting dialed in with Bailey. Sparks was second on the team with six kills against Sullivan South.
“They’re just getting comfortable with each other,” Swinehart said. “Olivia was new to setting for us this year. So they’re finally getting comfortable and starting to click with each other, and that’s so encouraging.”
Bailey is instinctive. She knows when to bypass a potential set for an attempt to kill with finesse.
“She’s very in tune with what’s happening and she’s the type that can outsmart people,” Swinehart said. “She’s not classically trained in volleyball by any means. But she will outsmart people because she reads the court so well.”
The Blue Devils served efficiently against Sullivan South.
“In the whole South match we only had four serving errors,” Swinehart said. “Our best diggers were Shelby and Savannah. My best service receivers were Shelby Miller and Emily Benard. …
“We’re still figuring out when to hit, when to tip, where to hit, where to tip, and not necessarily just getting it over the net,” Swinehart said. “We’ve still got a lot of room to grow there. I’m not saying we’re perfect or doing it wonderfully yet, but we are doing it. And I’m very encouraged by that, especially with the outside hitters. My outside hitters are working hard on knowing where to hit, and when they’re in the back row they’re helping each other out by telling where to hit, what’s open.”
Unicoi County was scheduled to visit Elizabethton on Tuesday, Sept. 1, and will travel to Johnson County on Thursday, Sept. 3. They are scheduled to host Chuckey-Doak on Tuesday, Sept. 8.