By Trey Williams
A fast start couldn’t delay a quick ending to the high school career of Unicoi County High School senior basketball player Ashtan Vance.
Vance scored 10 points, including two 3-pointers, in the first quarter while helping the Lady Devils jump out to a 15-8 lead against Happy Valley in the District 1-AA tournament play-in game on Wednesday, Feb. 19, at Sullivan East. But a third straight defeat of the Warriors was not to be.
Unicoi scored three points in the second quarter and sputtered the final three quarters to a 54-36 defeat, ending the season with a 14-16 record.
Just when it looked like the Lady Devils would be playing Elizabethton for a shot at a regional berth, Vance was suddenly in a postgame locker room for the final time with fellow seniors Kaylia Street and Jayla Stockfelt.
“It was just really disappointing because that was my last game and Kaylia and Jayla’s last game,” Vance said. “I hate that it ended that way. I’ve played with them since we were in elementary school. We played (YMCA) ball together, travel ball, middle school ball and high school ball. Pretty much my entire career I’ve played ball with them, and it was really sad.
“Jayla is a cutup, joking around and stuff. Kaylia tries to be like serious, but it comes off for me – I crack up at that stuff, because she doesn’t try to be funny but it is.”
When they were perhaps 9-10 years old playing at Happy Valley, Vance recalls with a chuckle, Street threw the ball in the chest of a boy who was guarding her closely.
“She had the ball with like a little boy guarding her,” Vance said, “and he was all up in her grill, up in her face. And she took that ball and she hit him in the gut with it and got the ball back and dribbled around him. … He was kind of shocked.”
Street scored five points against Happy Valley. Her 3-pointer in the third quarter kept hope alive. The Lady Devils beat Happy Valley twice in nail-biters during the regular season.
“I thought, ‘Well, we’ve done it twice. We can do it one more time.’ And we were doing fine,” Vance said. “Our first quarter we were fine, and then we just struggled to hit shots and then we had to foul. And they were making their free throws and we couldn’t make anything. …
“I had 10 I think either in the first quarter. And we got back out there and they got on my shot and were making me pass off and stuff.”
Vance was slowed 3-4 weeks by a knee injury this season. The season’s highlights included two wins against the Warriors, a win against Sullivan South and a 53-36 defeat of Knox Webb in the Maryville Christmas tournament.
“We played a really good Knox Webb and I had 19 then,” Vance said. “We were just playing great. That’s one I’ll probably remember the most.”
Vance’s box-out helped lead to Tenley Holt’s buzzer-beating game-winner in the first game against Happy Valley. Holt, a junior guard, led the Blue Devils with 11 points in the season finale. Holt, Vance and another junior, Caroline Podvin, were Unicoi’s top guns, and the future looks bright.
“With Caroline and Tenley coming back,” Vance said, “and Leah (Edney) as well, and Jocelyn (Metcalf) improving, along with Abigail Rush, Hannah Shelton and Laurel Osborne, I think they’ll be alright. They’ve still got a bunch of potential and growth to come. And they’ve got the eighth graders coming up, Faith Bennett, Allie Lingerfelt and Sarah Thomas. They’re pretty good little ballplayers. So I think our program will be alright.”
Vance was proud to represent the program, and one of the thrills of her career was playing when all-time leading scorer Amy Engle Shulman was in attendance to have her jersey formally retired on Feb. 11.
“My coaches had always talked about Amy Engle being such a good ballplayer,” Vance said. “I’d always heard good things about her and what she did for the program. And for her to be there that night, that was pretty cool. I didn’t have a very good night that night (chuckling), but I thought it was pretty cool that she was there watching us.”
Shulman was the Southern Conference player of the year at East Tennessee State. Vance hopes to continue her basketball career at UVa-Wise. Otherwise, she’ll likely play volleyball at Walters State.