By Trey Williams
Winning was contagious for the Unicoi Middle School girls’ basketball team last week.
The short-handed Jr. Lady Devils made Towering Oaks’ offense look sick en route to a 23-14 victory in the Texas Roadhouse Holiday Classic on Saturday night at Jonesborough Middle School.
Sara Thomas scored eight points, Noelle Farnor added six and tournament MVP Allie Lingerfelt’s distribution, defense and rebounding were invaluable in the finale. UCMS was playing without Faith Bennett and Ava English due to illness, and Farnor was playing her first game since returning from an illness.
“What I loved about tonight,” coach Jenifer Lingerfelt said, “was the fact that the girls that were out here are not all starters. We’ve got two of our starters at home – Ava English and Faith Bennett. And these gals have played supporting roles, and they stayed with me this morning for a two-hour walk-around. So this is one of the most special wins for me – really – ever, because it feels like a complete team win, because … we had kids in new spots and we had girls reminding each other, ‘Hey, you’re gonna set this pick’ or ‘You’re gonna run this route.’ So it’s really special just to see their heart and their work ethic and their friendship and support for each other.
“I know the girls at home are crushed because they were such big parts of our first two games (in the tournament), and to miss this one is really hard for them. We feel really, really proud that kids were able to step in and pull out a win for us.”
The Jr. Lady Devils held Towering Oaks to three points in the first half.
“One of the biggest compliments I’ve got this year from people who have been following us is how much our girls have improved – not just on the scoring side, but on the defensive side,” Lingerfelt said. “I’m so proud of them. They do play hard on both ends of the floor.”
The Jr. Lady Devils (9-8) improved to 6-2 since Allie Lingerfelt’s return from a stress fracture in her back sustained at some point last season. She scored a team-high nine points in a 24-15 win against Happy Valley in the semifinals and made all four of her free throw attempts in the second half of a 32-25 quarterfinal win against Bridgeport.
“While Allie was healing she was able to shoot free throws,” Lingerfelt said. “So every day she came to practice, listened, watched, cheered on her teammates and shot free throws. The real story is that in addition to getting Allie back, so many of the girls have developed into stronger players.
“I love the spirit they all have. That’s one reason I love the game – it takes everyone. I’m so glad she’s been able to come back and play with these girls who love to play together.
“Happy Valley knew us well enough to kind of lock Faith down, and then Noelle and Allie and Sara and some other players stepped up.”
Indeed, Bennett had scored 20 points against Bridgeport in the quarterfinal triumph. Bennett and Thomas combined for nine in the win against Happy Valley.
“Faith and Sara have been battling all year and their heart and leadership can’t be underestimated,” Lingerfelt said. “Noelle was sick until yesterday. … This (championship game) was her first day back. She was a trooper. She fought so, so hard. I’m so proud. She gave us a hundred percent of everything inside of her – just truly, truly special.”
Thomas joined Lingerfelt on the all-tournament team along with Maddie Humphrey (Jonesborough), Marcida Thompson (Happy Valley), Veda Borton (Church Hill) and Emma Cutshaw (Towering Oaks).