Providence Academy is enjoying its greatest athletic success in its 20-year history, highlighted by its undefeated girls’ soccer team.
Yet, the coaches are quick to point out results on the field are secondary to what matters most.
There is a 16-page handbook for those participate in sports with the statement, “We at Providence Academy must never allow the athletics program to become The Program.”
“We’re always looking at academics and our testimony for Christ,” said Martin Sells, the school’s athletic director and coach of the boys’ basketball and baseball teams. “We always talk about sports display character, they don’t create character. It’s a chance for the kids to show how they’ve developed as a human being and as a Christian.”
Don’t misunderstand, the folks at Providence still enjoy winning, and they’ve had plenty of reason to celebrate lately.
The girls’ soccer team is 14-0 heading into today’s match with Carolina Day School. The record includes a 5-4 comeback victory Monday night against the local FC Dallas U17 club team, which features players from Science Hill, Dobyns-Bennett and Sullivan South.
In that match, senior forward Kyler Williams scored four goals, including both the game-tying and game-winning scores. Junior forward Erica Roller accounted for an assist and the team’s other goal. Roller followed that effort up by scoring two goals in Tuesday’s 4-2 win over Veritas.
“They’re quick and they want the ball at their feet at all times,” Coach James Herington said about his dynamic duo. “They’re not afraid to make mistakes. I think that’s what makes them great.”
Williams, a Milligan College signee, has certainly given Providence great production. She had one goal, the 107th of her storied career, in the win over Veritas. Fellow senior Sue Ellen Harrod also scored in that match, while another senior, Hayley Scarborough, earned praise with her gritty play.
“This season has been led by our seniors,” Herington said. “Kyler is one of them, while Sue Ellen Harrod and Hayley Scarborough have been playing strong in the middle. Then, I have a defense with two juniors and two freshmen back there. But, they communicate well and my goalie communicates well. That has been key -- the communication and leadership.”
The communication was put to the test when the Lady Knights fell behind by two goals to FC Dallas on two separate occasions. Instead of panic, the team responded by bonding together. A hustle play down the sideline late in the second half by junior forward McKenzie Trujillo signified their efforts and highlighted the type of athletes currently playing for Providence.
“I’ve never seen so many quick girls on one soccer team,” Herington said. “I’m blessed to have them on this one team, and they go after it. They’re not afraid.”
In the end, it was a pair of younger players, freshman defender Kennah Harris and sophomore goalkeeper Livy Tumlin, who helped secure the victory.
Harris prevented a header off a late corner kick by outjumping a host of FC Dallas attackers. Later, Tumlin was cool under pressure, stopping a dead-on penalty kick in the 78th minute.
It was the team’s biggest win so far this season, a strong statement considering the team also has victories over Virginia public schools, Abingdon and Gate City.
“It has taken us a little while to get here,” Herington said. “But, we’re not intimidated by these other teams. We aim to win. We know we want to and know that we can. We may be a small school, but we have great athletes here.
“I can’t say enough about the character of the athletes in our programs. They have the desire to win, but not at all costs. They understand what’s most important in life -- Christ first, family second and then sports.”
The success isn’t limited to girls’ soccer.
The basketball, baseball and volleyball teams have combined to score 40 wins over the public schools over the past two seasons.
The basketball team earned splits with Class AA schools Sullivan North and Happy Valley, as well as crosstown rival University High.
The Knights also swept Cloudland, winning at the always tough Sonny Smith Gym against a program which has made the Class A state tournament in five of the last nine seasons.
In addition, they lost by only four points to Sullivan East and played Big Seven Conference power Tennessee High close for a half.
“We started playing one team at a time and building their confidence,” Sells said. “It’s just an attitude we’re going to play our best and do our best. We’ve gone to summer camps with them in a non-pressure platform. A lot of it is just knowing we can play against them.”
It also didn’t hurt this year’s team had five talented seniors -- Jacolby Darr, Aaron Lewis, Caleb Sprouse, Cody Sprouse and Jake Weaver. If those names sound familar, it’s because most are involved in multiple sports.
“Jacolby Darr plays three sports and Jake Weaver plays three sports,” Sells said. “We’ve had several kids who played at least two sports. They go to school, work for good grades and have good attitudes. It’s easy to work with kids like that.”
Back in the fall, the girls’ volleyball team went 22-9 which included wins over Daniel Boone, Unicoi County and Johnson County. Fast forward to the spring, the baseball team has beaten four teams from the Watauga Valley Conference including traditional power Unaka.
Over the past two seasons, the Knights have gone 21-11 in games against public schools.
“I think when people come in, they think, ‘We’ve got to show up and play hard,’” said Mike Cash, a baseball assistant and the girls’ head basketball coach. “If they don’t come in thinking that way, they understand they can walk out with a loss. They can’t overlook our teams anymore. We work hard at it and we want to be competitive.”
Playing against so many of the Class A schools, it would appear Providence would be a natural fit for the Watauga Valley Conference. However, Providence would have to play in Division II under TSSAA sanction since one of its four students receive some kind of scholarship.
As it stands, the Knights compete in the NACA (National Association of Christian Athletes) and its postseason tournaments in Dayton. Besides, the Knights have proven they can hold their own against the smaller public-school teams.
“I’m proud of where the athletic program is at,” Sells said. “We’ve got a lot of good coaches and a lot of good fan support. We’re thrilled with the effort we get from everybody. It is a team effort.”