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     By Matt Hill

The Unicoi County High School Volleyball program is trying to join the upper echelon of the Three Rivers Conference, and head coach Holly Perdue is not taking the easy way out to do it.

Despite already having to play Sullivan East twice in the Three Rivers play and now having to face the addition to the league of one of best teams in the state in any classification in Sullivan South, the Lady Devils have scheduled several non-conference games against teams with many more students than UCHS.

Tennessee High, David Crockett and Daniel Boone will also be on the UCHS schedule in addition to some very tough Saturday tournaments where the squad is going to face some of the best teams in the region. UCHS started a high school volleyball program in 2004 with Ruth Ann Wilson being the head coach. The team was surprisingly strong early on and has always been competitive.

Now, the Lady Devils have their sights set on getting this program to even greater heights. Second-year head coach Holly Perdue, a former standout at Milligan College, is definitely putting this program to the test. The Tennessee High match is actually the first match of the year. When you throw in traditional TRC powers Sullivan East and Sullivan North, conference newcomer Sullivan South and then two large Washington County schools in Boone and Crockett, Perdue is definitely making a statement.

Yes, UCHS can win some of these matches and probably will, but Perdue is not taking it easy on these young ladies. She is putting these girls through the fire.

Hopefully it will pay off. The Lady Devils just finished first in the varsity and JV divisions at the Coastal Carolina Volleyball camp in Conway, S.C. near Myrtle Beach. The program is definitely headed in the right direction.

Of course, UCHS in girls sports is more known for basketball and softball, but I firmly believe there is room for volleyball to become a major sport in Unicoi County.

Starting Monday, The UCHS girls are holding a kids camp for younger children who are getting introduced to this wonderful sport.

The more visibility the girls can have in the community, the better off they will be in the long run.

Short term though, the Lady Devils are working hard to climb a very difficult ladder in the Three Rivers.

A similar program to Unicoi County, the Elizabethton Lady Cyclones, have also found it difficult to compete with the dominance of Sullivan County in the Three Rivers in Volleyball.

Now with Sullivan South coming into the league, the league just became even tougher. Go take a look at the banners in Death Valley. Most of them are volleyball.

Still, Unicoi County is trying to build something special and they have a great young lady in charge in Coach Perdue.

Perdue, as she has shown in track, truly loves what she does and cares very deeply about the kids as well.

Unicoi County has had some strong moments in volleyball, but it looks like it could be on the verge of breaking through.

The schedule is definitely something that will make them better. Not backing down from a challenge sends a message to the other schools in the conference.

I know that a couple of the kids have also played club volleyball and are dedicated to solely playing this sport. Others are very good athletes from softball and basketball.

Any way you slice it, the future is very bright for the UCHS Volleyball team. Hopefully, the future is now.

Perdue obviously believes that good things are going to happen. She is putting her team against the best in the area and letting the chips fall where they may.

Most of all though, she is taking the chance. And she should be commended for it.

Follow Matt Hill on twitter @MattHillsports or WEMB @1420wemb.

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