By Scottie Blankenship
The Unicoi County High School girls’ basketball team is looking to bounce back from last season’s 13-21 record and to be competitive in a Three Rivers Conference with a lot of parity.
Under the direction of head coach Kerri King, the Lady Devils return two seniors and a host of players looking to leave their marks on the program.
“We have more depth this season than we have had in the past,” King recently said. “Most of our players have at least varsity experience and maturity.”
Expected to lead the way for the Lady Devils are seniors Neelee Griffith and Ashley Edwards. Griffith is an all-around player who will play both guard and post positions on both ends of the floor.
“Neelee is tenacious,” King said. “We rely on her a lot. She plays hard, has found her niche offensively and has learned to trust her teammates.”
Griffith averaged 6.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last season.
King said she will also be calling on Edwards, not only for points and rebounds, but for leadership as well. Edwards averaged 5.9 points and 3.5 rebounds per game during her junior season.
“We need her to play big for us this year,” King said. “She’s a solid player and has worked hard.”
Other players who are expected to contribute this season are juniors Halie Padgett, Rachel Lynch, Kenedy King and Kaitlyn Tilson.
Padgett has become a mainstay under the basket for the ladies. She brings size and athleticism to the court. Before her sophomore season was cut short by an injury, Padgett was averaging 10.8 points and 7.4 rebounds for game.
Lynch and King both saw varsity minutes last season. Lynch is a post player who is a solid defender and rebounder. King is a good shooter and defender. Tilson is a smart guard who will run the point guard position for the junior varsity team.
“The juniors have been thrown into playing situations before,” King said. “That experience gives them confidence going into this season. They have worked on their games in the offseason and bring a sense of maturity to the floor that we didn’t have.”
Sophomore guards Kaylee Hendrickson and Chloe Powers also return for the Lady Devils. Hendrickson is expected to be the starting point guard for the squad.
“Kaylee has a great skill set and she handles the ball well,” King said. “She is a good shooter and a strong defender. She will move to play point guard this season, which is her natural position.”
Hendrickson gained some varsity experience last season before missing the last part of the season due to an injury.
Powers also made noise last year as a freshman and was thrust into the starting lineup after injuries hit the Lady Devils.
“Chloe was one of best players at the end of last season,” King said. “She carried us in some games in the tournament.”
Powers’ play in the tournament didn’t go unnoticed, as she received District 1-AA all-tournament honors.
Sophomore post player Allee Griffith brings physicality and rebounding to the team, King said.
Rounding out the varsity squad are freshmen Kaitlin Bailey, Ashtan Vance and Kaylia Street.
Bailey is a versatile player who can play almost every position on the floor. Vance and Street are both tough guards who can score and play solid defense.
“There is a lot of depth in the freshman class,” King said. “They are good athletes and that helps them bring a lot of intensity to practice.”
King said the Lady Devils will be competing in a Three Rivers Conference where any team can beat another on any given night.
“There is a lot of parity in the conference,” King said. “That is a good thing, but it also means you have to be on your toes ready to play night in and night out. Every game is going to count.”
Joining King on the sidelines will be assistant coach Megan Davis and varsity assistant Keeli Parkey.
Fans will get their first look of the Lady Devils on Thursday, Nov. 18, when they host the Volunteer Falcons at 2:30 p.m. in the Devils’ Den in Hall of Champions action. The team will take to the court again on Thursday to face Greeneville at 8 p.m.
Hall of Champions action will continue on Saturday, Nov. 20, when Cherokee visits Erwin. Action will begin at 11 a.m. with the junior varsity girls’ game. This will be followed by the junior varsity boys’ game at 12:30 p.m., the girls’ varsity game at 2 p.m. and the boys’ varsity game at 3:30 p.m.
The Lady Devils will travel to Sullivan East next week for holiday tournament action. They will play Daniel Boone at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 22; Sullivan East on Wednesday, Nov. 23, at 8:30 p.m.; and Hampton on Friday, Nov. 25, at 3:30 p.m.