By Keeli Parkey
The 2017 Unicoi County High School volleyball team was competitive, but this didn’t always translate to victories. Head coach LeAnn Lane believes her 2018 team has what it takes to turn those losses into wins.
“Last year we finished in fifth place out of six teams in the conference with a record of 2-8,” Lane, who is entering her third season leading the program, recently said. “However, our record did not show our competitiveness. Last season we took Elizabethton – the second place finisher – to four and five games, which had not been done in the past. We also took one game from (Sullivan) South, who was undefeated last season – another feat that had not been accomplished. Overall, we lost 20 games within a 5-point margin, which shows we were competitive, but struggled with finishing the win. That’s what we hope to accomplish this year – finishing the win.”
Coming together as a team was a focus of this preseason, according to the head coach.
“During the preseason, we have worked a lot on team play,” Lane said. “We participated in the Coastal Carolina Team Camp, which was very beneficial, not only for team bonding but to find out what lineup is going to work best for this season.”
Eleven players make up the 2018 varsity squad, including: seniors – Karrie Clayton, Brooklyn Jones, Emma Kelly, Sarah Grace Larkey, Chloe Powers and Sydney Rogers; juniors – Hallee Casey, Gabby Davis, Blake Hall and Ashtan Vance; and freshman Shelby Miller.
Lane said that out of these 11 players, eight return with experience.
“That gives us great confidence for a bright season,” Lane said.
Jones and Rogers were sidelined for much of the 2017 season due to injuries.
“They have put in a lot of off-season work to return strong this season,” Lane said. “Jones, who finished her sophomore year receiving all-tournament team at the district tournament is expected to play big at the net, while Rogers has showed much improvement as a defensive specialist.”
Clayton and Kelly will play double duty on the outside and right. Larkey will be relied on, along with Hall, a 2-year starter, at the “reigns” of the team, according to Lane.
“Larkey, the leading hitter on last season’s team has gained quickness in the offseason and looks to be a threat both as a setter and a hitter,” the head coach added.
Powers had more than 300 digs last season, including 30 in the district tournament.
“Powers will be given the Libero position this season with expectations of collecting double the digs from last season,” Lane said.
Vance is another returning starter from last season.
“Vance peaked at the end of last season and showed her potential with a double-double in kills and digs in the district game against Elizabethton,” Lane said.
Casey plays as a setter, while Davis is both a setter and defensive specialist.
Miller is a newcomer to the team and to Unicoi County.
“Miller, whose family returned to Erwin after living in Alabama for years, fills a much needed open position left from one of last season’s seniors and has quickly matched the skills of the seasoned players,” Lane said. “Of the six seniors, four are looking to play at the next level, while freshman Miller is already gathering the attention of college coaches.”
Lane said she believes this squad has what it takes to be one of the top teams in the conference.
“Each year, I’ve set that expectation that reaching the top three in the conference is possible,” she added. “I highly believe that more than ever this season. Every single game is important this season in order to get there. I believe our girls have the confidence needed to win this season; especially after being so competitive last season and just falling short. I feel they also see how well rounded the team is and how each girl has a special role to play. I’m hoping to work on mental toughness during the preseason play and work out kinks for us to finish the win this season.”
The Lady Devils will compete in a conference with Chuckey-Doak, Elizabethton, Johnson County, Sullivan Central, Sullivan East and Sullivan South.
Fourteen players will play on the junior varsity and freshman team. This Lady Devil squad includes: sophomores – Dora Benton, Ashley Clayton and Natilee Clouse; and freshmen – Emalee Benard, Emily Bryant, Makenzie Casey, Bayleigh Hyder, Bridget Michelsen, Amanda Miller, Rocio Reynoso, Hannah Shelton, Savannah Sparks, Raquel Torres, Caitlin Wilson and Alex Withers.
Laura Rogers will serve as an assistant coach for the program.
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The Lady Devils opened the 2018 season on Aug. 13 at home against Greeneville. They also hosted Johnson County on Aug. 14 after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue.
The team is scheduled to travel to Chuckey-Doak on Thursday, Aug. 16. The varsity squad will compete in a tournament at Elizabethton on Saturday, Aug. 18. The Lady Devils will host Volunteer on Monday, Aug. 20, and Sullivan South on Tuesday, Aug. 21, with matches scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m.