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Off the Field – Tennis teams make progress (May 6, 2015 issue)

The 2015 season came to a close last week for the Unicoi County High School tennis teams. It was a rebuilding year that saw numerous positives.
Head coach Jonathan Kenney saw his Lady Blue Devils earn wins during the season with veterans like Emily Lynch, Kamille Harris, Victoria Bailey, Laurel Koenig and Brittnie Rice, but the question heading into this year with the progress of the Blue Devils.
After graduating Conly Shults, a current tennis player with Milligan College, was working with an inexperienced group of netters, led by first year senior players, Fernando Castellon and John Singleton.
The guys took their lumps early, but made noise in the district tournament, pushing experienced teams to the limit.
Dalton Spears and Christian Leon were on the verge of earning an upset against one of Elizabethton’s top doubles teams. Carter Powers brought the heat in his singles match, while Castellon and teammate Sam Murillo nearly played their way into an opening round win on Thursday.
“When we first came out here, there was only one of us that could really hit the ball and that was our number one, Dalton,” Castellon said about the team’s improvement heading into the postseason. “Our number two and number three were solid, too, but I think we improved a lot as a whole this season and our girls stayed consistent the entire year.”
Coming into a leadership role was a new situation for Castellon, but it came with ease with Singleton.
“It was hard not being experienced,” he said, “but we wanted to keep everything up-tempo and keep everyone excited during the matches.”
The small things stand out the most across the courts. When tennis players were on the court, a vast contingent of the Blue Nation would be on the bleachers near the court cheering on their teammates.
For Murillo, an expected leader next season, the experience of the postseason trip will be key moving forward, he said.
“We went in there with a ‘we’re going to win mentality’ today,” he said of his doubles match with Castellon. “As the game went on, it was around 5-2, but then, unfortunately, we got a little cocky and they came back up on us.
“Day one (of the season) we we’re hitting the ball right at the net or bombing them up in the air and now we can actually keep it in the court and have a pretty decent match with each other.”
Murillo also said that any future netters can expect a good time with the tennis program.
“It’s fun,” Murillo said. “I have a feeling the guys could have a chance of making it to the regionals.”
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The UCHS football team began spring practice last week and scrimmages await the program in the next two weeks.
The Blue Devils will make the trip to Sullivan Central for the first of two scrimmages on May 8 The second scrimmage will be a trip to Roan Mountain to face Cloudland on May 14.
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Postseason action continues for the UCHS baseball, softball and track and field athletes. Looking for updates and information during the week?
Visit The Erwin Record Sports Facebook page or check out updates on athletics on Twitter: @CurtisCarden_ER.