KINGSPORT — The game suddenly changes when No. 32 walks onto the court. She does it all — serve, block, dig, pass and kill.
However, none of this means as much to Sullivan North’s volleyball team as Emily Dean’s leadership.
The 6-foot-1 senior was Watauga Conference Co-Player of the Year in 2008. In the new Three Rivers Conference, Dean has picked up where she left off.
She led the Lady Raiders to a 25-22, 25-18, 25-18 victory Thursday night over visiting Unicoi County.
Dean had 17 kills and four blocks to spark a team that is just getting over injuries.
“I want to be a leader, push this team and let them know we can do it together,’’ Dean said. “My goal is for North to play in the state tournament.’’
Dean is likely to be on the dean’s list in college. She carries a 3.95 grade point average.
North’s Olivia Breeding and McKenzie Sumpter collided in the recent Border Bash at King College. Breeding suffered a concussion and Sumpter required five stitches above an eye. Both were back in action against Unicoi County. Chelsea Doran, who’s missed all 11 matches with an ankle sprain, should know her status today.
“We have the offensive weapons,’’ coach Vicki McGlothlin said. “We’re usually around 94 percent as a hitting team. If we can improve defensively, this team could go far.
“We’ll be devoting about all of our practice time to defense. Passing is being prepared and reacting.’’
Other standouts against Unicoi County (2-1, 1-1) were Tiffany Gragg, seven kills and two blocks; Breeding, 21 assists; and Cydney Hood, 25 service points.
North (4-7, 2-1) was runner-up in both conference play and the region and lost to state-bound Stone Memorial in a TSSAA sectional last year.
The Lady Raiders, who have no middle school feeder program, like the challenge of facing competitive teams in tournaments. It tends to raise their level of play. The Three Rivers title race is expected to be between North and Sullivan East, a team that has already beaten the Lady Raiders.
“I knew it wouldn’t be easy tonight,’’ Unicoi County coach Junia Gindlesperger said. “North is competitive. Strong service rallies helped us stay in it.’’
Sarah Garland paced the Lady Blue Devils with 13 digs, five kills and five blocks.