A pair of volleyball players are headed to the next level in Virginia. Abby Byington made it official with Virginia-Wise and Chelsie Crussell signed on with Emory & Henry.
Walters State will be the softball home for McCoy Hensley and the baseball home of Matt Taylor, a right-handed pitcher.
The 6-foot-5 Taylor spurned Division I offers from East Tennessee State, Western Kentucky and UT-Martin, hoping instead to land bigger offers after two years of junior-college baseball.
“I eventually want to play at the highest level possible, that being in the SEC or the ACC or trying to get drafted,” Taylor said. “I definitely feel like Walters State will put me on a path to do that.”
Taylor went 4-1 as a sophomore and was the top pitcher on the 2017 Indians team that finished third in the state, posting a 10-2 record with 69 strikeouts and a 2.30 ERA in 62 2-3 innings pitched. He won four postseason games: the District 1-AAA championship, the Region 1-AAA semifinal, the TSSAA Class AAA sectional and against eventual state champion Brentwood in the state tournament.
Taylor was an All-Big 7 Conference first-team selection as well as an All-District 1-AAA tournament pick and a Prep Baseball Report all-state second-teamer.
“Matt knows he has to work hard to succeed at Walters State because they are one of the best junior colleges in the country,” said Tribe baseball coach Ryan Wagner. “They have produced so many Division I players over the last several years, so Matt is on the right track.”
Hensley is a dual-sport athlete, but softball has been her calling card. Playing multiple positions, Hensley will be a four-year starter with the Lady Indians. Thus far, she’s compiled a .350 career batting average and was all-conference each of the last two seasons.
“I really like the coaching staff, the atmosphere and my future teammates,” she said, “and I think Walters State will be a really good school for me.”
Like Taylor, Hensley has her eyes set on bigger prizes down the road.
“I hope to keep playing after my two years there,” Hensley added. “I want to get better and stronger and hopefully go somewhere big. I want to make something of myself and I think Walters State will help me do it.”
Byington was a second-team All-Big 7 selection this past season after leading the Lady Indians to the regular-season conference title. A middle blocker, she compiled 493 kills, 104 digs, 83 blocks and 28 aces in her D-B career. She committed to the Cavaliers late last summer.
“I think UVa.-Wise is a really good school academically and I enjoy the coaches and players,” Byington said. “It’s a small campus, my type of environment.”
Byington considered several local schools before making her choice.
“As soon as I got on the campus, I felt like it could definitely see myself there,” she said.
It was much the same for Crussell at Emory & Henry.
“I just had this feeling when I went to Emory,” she said. “Plus I eventually want to go to pharmacy school and it fit for my career and future very well.”
Crussell totaled 392 kills, 223 digs, 49 blocks and 41 assists as an outside hitter.
“They want me to come in and play outsider hitter there, too,” noted Crussell, who also considered Brevard, Averitt, Hollins and North Carolina Wesleyan. “They like that I can also play defense.”