Watauga showdown pits Lady Cyclones, Devils

By Kim Richardson
STAR Correspondent

   The Unicoi County Lady Blue Devils, barring weather cancellations, are set to host the Lady Cyclones of Elizabethton High School tonight. It should be a classic.
   The Lady Cyclones remember just how close they came to defeating the Blue Devils in Elizabethton earlier this month, and they have a lot to play for.
   This year's graduating class has never beaten Unicoi High in varsity basketball; that's one thing.  Another is that the Cyclones can actually win a share of the Watauga Conference championship by defeating the Lady Blue Devils.
   So what are the odds?
   Unicoi has lost three games this season, two of them to powerhouses in a tournament in Florida earlier. The Lady Devils also lost to Sullivan Central for their only conference defeat this season.  That's it, only three losses. 
   The Lady Devils don't lose often. They're well coached. They're very steady. Elizabethton head coach, Mike Wilson agrees.
   "They are fundamentally sound -- much disciplined," Wilson said. "Coach Fisher does an outstanding job coaching a great bunch of players. They don't make many mistakes, and when they do, they often make up for them at the other end of the court, or on their next possession." 
   "Offensively they're very unselfish," Coach Wilson continued. "They share the ball well, and in fact they often make the extra pass to the more-open player for a better shot."
   How about their defense, coach?
   "Again, they're very fundamental, very active," Wilson said. "You have to pick your shot, pick your spots to work on."  
   Defensively it's the same song and dance for Unicoi: tenacious, man-to-man. But as they proved at Roan Mountain Friday night, the Lady Devils can ice your offense with a relentless zone.  They're quick around screens, and change off well. But most significantly, they box out very well.
   So there you have it.
   "It's simple," said Coach Wilson. "Coach Fisher has a sound basketball team. It's been that way for many years now, and we know exactly what to expect from them. It's not rocket science; we just have to execute. But saying it, and doing it, well, it'll be a challenge, that's for sure."
   Coach Fisher reciprocated Coach Wilson's respect.
   "They're an outstanding, very talented basketball team," Fisher said of the Lady Cyclones. "I have a great deal of respect for Coach Wilson and how he gets the players to respond. He does a terrific job. It should be, and I hope it will be a real battle."
   The players are certainly ready to have at it.
   "We didn't play well here on our home court," said the Cyclones' Michaela Pietrowski. "We had so many turnovers; and we made so many mistakes at critical times in the game. We didn't keep them off the boards like we're capable of doing."
   Valerie Kauffeld agreed, and added, "We didn't match up well at all last time. They killed us on the boards. They seemed to get all the rebounds. We'll do a much better job of boxing out, and we'll work harder in Erwin."
   Seems simple enough; it's a game of fundamentals. The team that executes its offense best, the team with the fewest turnovers has a great chance at victory. 
   But Unicoi County has been there before, and for the Lady Cyclones there's the added incentive of getting the Unicoi County monkey off their collective backs.
   "We've been in a couple tough games with them," said Unicoi's Hali Sparks. "We had to battle down to the wire in Elizabethton, that's for sure."
   "But hey, that's what it's all about," Sparks continued. "It's all about execution. We play team ball. We'll have to be very focused to win."
   So how about the thought of sharing the conference championship with the ladies from Elizabethton?
   "Don't care at all about that," said certain all star Elizabeth Weaver. "We know it'll be a great game, and we also know how badly they'd like to beat us. I can't wait to get it on." 
   Unicoi guard Kellye Honeycutt is eager to play well.
   "We're playing well as a team right now," she said. "They're taller than us. We'll have to work extra hard."
   Coach Fisher is a very successful coach, having taken several teams deep into tournament action.
   "Well, I've been lucky," said Coach Fisher. "I have some very good players, good shooters, good rebounders, good defenders and all. But most of all, I've had good girls to work with. 
   "This group has been so much fun to coach; they've responded to coaching very well. Plus they're a close-knit group."
   Barring cancellation, tip-off is scheduled for 6:30.