By Keeli Parkey

As they await players to return from injuries, the Unicoi County High School volleyball team continues to put up a fight against opponents.

“We need to stay injury free, get back to a standard/consistent lineup, and play as a team,” head coach Shelley Swinehart told The Erwin Record. “Once we all get healthy and play consistent matches together, I believe we will see even more success on the court.”

Last week, the Lady Devils (7-10, 3-4) defeated Happy Valley in non-conference play in Erwin on Sept. 16. UCHS made quick work the Lady Warriors, winning in three sets (26.6, 25-10, 25-3)

“We played well against Happy Valley despite having one of our outside hitters out and one middle player out,” Swinehart said. “Ashtan Vance stepped up for us and carried our offense. Our seniors – Ashtan Vance, Hallee Casey, and Gabby Davis – were strong on defense in the back row. Savannah Sparks stepped into our outside hitter role and I have been very proud of her for taking on a role that she has only had to do in JV games so far this season.”

The Lady Devils then lost to KACHEA in non-conference play on the road on Sept. 17. After losing the first two sets (13-25, 18-25), UCHS bounced back to win the third (25-21). However, KACHEA regained control of the match to win the fourth set (15-25) and get the victory.

With less than a month left in the season, Swinehart is seeing a lot of positives from her team.

“Our cohesiveness as a team has been a strong point for us this season,” she said. “We have struggled with this aspect though in the last couple of matches due to the fact that we have had so many injuries.

“This past week, two of our injured players returned. We’re hoping the other two will return this week. Our practice Sunday was one of the best practices we had so far this year. We worked on bringing that team cohesiveness back and we are hoping that will be present in our matches this week.”

Another positive has been the play of the program’s newer members.

“Younger players continue to grow and step up into varsity positions as varsity players get injured,” Swinehart said. “We played in the Rocky Top classic two freshmen and four sophomores. They played hard and consistent. Our seniors supported them on the court. With the encouragement from the other varsity players, our young players still enabled us to constantly compete with teams who were playing mostly juniors and seniors.”

The Lady Devils hosted Elizabethton on Monday, Sept. 23, and traveled to Sullivan Central on Tuesday, Sept. 24, for conference games after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. They are scheduled to host conference foe Johnson County on Thursday, Sept. 26.