By Trey Williams
Ashtan Vance and the Unicoi County High School girls’ basketball team tipped off 2020 with clear vision.
The Lady Devils wrapped up 2019 by winning six of seven, including Three Rivers Conference wins against Happy Valley and Sullivan South.
“We ended strong for 2019,” Vance said. “I think we played well. Going into 2020, I think (we’ll do well) if we have that same mentality like we had when we played against Happy Valley and (Sullivan) South and Knox Webb. Playing tough teams you have to do the little things like boxing out, rebounding, help-side and help-helper (defense).”
Vance, a senior, scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a 52-21 win at Chuckey-Doak on Friday that completed a non-conference, regular season sweep.
Vance made two 3-pointers, as did guard Tenley Holt, who led the Lady Devils (2-0, 12-4) with 17 points.
“We played pretty well,” Vance said. “I’m pretty proud of Tenley Holt. She did really well.”
Caroline Podvin scored 10 points and made Unicoi County’s other trey. Podvin, Vance and Holt are the Lady Devils’ three consistent scorers.
Vance noted the value that role players such as Leah Edney and Kaylia Street are making with steady improvement.
Vance seems to get more excited talking about playing defense than scoring.
“Ashtan is a great on-the-ball or shut-down defender,” Lady Devil coach Kerri King said. “Ashtan can just find another gear in games. She plays hard on both ends of the floor, and we always give her the hardest defensive assignment and she welcomes that. We count on her for defensive intensity, and she embraces that and works for us.”
Vance enjoys being the catalyst on defense. She didn’t have older siblings like Podvin and Holt to help instill mental toughness, but gained competitiveness from her father, who played in high school in Ohio (Lucas).
“I’ve always loved defense,” she said. “(Coach King) stresses that in practice a lot, and I think if we can contain the main scorers that we’ll be fine. … Playing up, being aggressive on the ball – I’ve always loved that. Shutting down people, I take pride in that.”
Vance was preparing to guard talented sophomore point guard Riley Nelson for Tuesday’s game at Sullivan East, and could guard Elizabethton’s Kaylen Shell when the Lady Devils host the Cyclones on Friday, Jan. 10. Vance also could guard Elizabethton’s Kaitlin Bailey, who began her career at Unicoi County and helped the Cyclones win the district tournament last season a week after becoming eligible.
“Normally, I’m on the ball,” Vance said. “But where we don’t have a lot of height – I’m pretty much the second-tallest player on our team – I could possibly be guarding Bailey. I’m not sure just yet.
“We’ve been focusing on East. She (Nelson) likes to attack the basket. She’s good at that.”
Elizabethton was picked second behind Sullivan Central in the Three Rivers Conference. UCHS pulled up the rear in the poll.
“Just the fact that we did get picked last, I know for me personally it makes me want to beat everyone just that much more,” Vance said. “I mean there really isn’t any pressure on us because we were picked last, but I think that just gives me that much more motivation to prove everybody wrong.”
Elizabethton’s height could pose a problem.
“Elizabethton is seasoned with upperclassmen, as well as a skilled freshman class,” King said. “Four of their top six players are taller than Caroline, who is our only player that is 5-foot-9. They won the district tournament last year and graduated no significant players. So, the pressure is on them.
“They should be favored. They have players from all over upper East Tennessee. We will tip it up and see how we scrap.”
The Lady Devils will also host Sullivan Central on Tuesday, Jan. 14. The junior varsity team is scheduled to take the court at 4 p.m. followed by the varsity team at 6:30 p.m.