By Keeli Parkey
An up-and-down season has come to an end for the Unicoi County High School volleyball team (5-14, 2-10).
“We have rode a roller coaster all season – with injuries, there was someone new in the lineup every week; it’s been a difficult season,” head coach LeAnn Lane said. “Despite those injuries, we have shown great things.”
The Lady Devils were eliminated from postseason play by a first round loss to Elizabethton in the District 1-AA tournament on Monday, Oct. 2. After winning the first set (25-20), the team remained competitive against the Lady Cyclones, but couldn’t get points when they needed them most. Elizabethton won the next three sets to win the match (17-25, 15-25 and 24-26).
The match saw the return of junior Brooklyn Jones who had missed the entire season with a broken hand. Jones contributed 5 kills in the loss. Senior Rachel Lynch turned in a personal best performance with 16 assists and 11 digs.
Other notable stats included: Ashtan Vance’s 23 digs and 2 kills; Chloe Powers’ 27 digs and 5 kills; Katelyn Bennett’s 4 kills, 1 block and 5 digs; Sarah Grace Larkey’s 11 kills, 10 assists and 11 digs; and Emily Lamie’s 4 kills and 8 digs.
Four seniors – Lynch, Bennett, Lamie and Alex Reynoso – played their final match for the Lady Devil program on Monday.
“It’s unfortunate for our seniors to have to end the season this way, but they have accomplished something that previous UCHS volleyball teams haven’t and that’s take games from Elizabethton, (Sullivan) Central, (Sullivan) East, Chuckey-Doak and (Sullivan) South,” Lane said. “We just could not take the entire matches – that comes down to game experience and winning experience.”
Bennett has been named to the all-conference team. Receiving all-conference honorable mention honors were Lynch, Lamie, Larkey, Powers, Blake Hall and Vance.
“I also see positives for next year,” Lane said. “We will have eight of the 12 varsity players returning next year. I expect us to be just as competitive next year as we were this year. Our program is changing and competing the way we have this year proves that.”
During the final week of the regular season, the Lady Devils suffered two losses in league play. First, they lost to Sullivan South on Sept. 25 in four sets (12-25, 16-25, 25-23, 20-25).
“As our season is coming to an end, I’m definitely pleased with our efforts this season,” Lane said after the match. “We are making strides even though our record doesn’t reflect a winning season. We’ve stepped up our game and even with our conference being so competitive this season the girls know if they bring their ‘A’ game, they can definitely hang with, if not beat, anyone in the conference.”
Powers had 20 digs in the loss. Vance had 5 kills, 15 digs and 2 aces. Bennett and Lamie each had 5 kills and 8 digs. Hall had 8 assists and 7 digs. Larkey had 8 assists.
The Lady Devils went to five sets against Sullivan Central on Sept. 26, but couldn’t get the win (25-19, 25-15, 18-25, 22-25, 10-15).
“Tonight’s loss was disappointing but at the same time, I’m still proud of them,” Lane said. “We have proven that we can beat anyone in the conference by taking at least one game, sometimes two from teams that we haven’t beat before. I told my girls after the game to keep our heads up. When we play 110 percent anything could happen. We could beat anyone and our game scores prove that. We have lost 22 games by a 5-point margin or less. That just says we are barely missing the mark. We just have to keep working hard. … This program is changing and I’m very proud of the girls for sticking with it tonight.”
Against Central, Vance had 10 kills and 10 digs. Hall had 23 assists and 7 digs. Lamie had a game-high 10 kills and 13 digs. Bennett had 9 kills, 3 aces, 11 digs and 2 blocks. Powers had 6 kills, 3 aces and a game-high 32 digs. Larkey had 11 kills.