By A.J. Kaufman
After two long months of intense competition, the Science Hill volleyball team captured championships with several standout players leading the way.
Outside Hitter Autumn Holmes is ranked the No. 4 player in the entire nation, while Libero Molly Williams is No. 16 nationally. Both are ranked No. 1 in the state of Tennessee for kills and digs, respectively. Holmes has more than 1,250 career kills, second in the entire nation this year with 664. Williams is credited with over 1,400 digs — nearly 750 of them this season — good for 16th in the United States among high school girls.
A defensive specialist, Williams has overcome a great deal off the court recently to achieve feats on the floor.
In addition to the travails of COVID-19, Williams blew out her knee in June 2021, and spent her entire junior season away from the sport, rehabilitating from the injury.
“I didn’t believe I was hurt. I tried to take the court, but it was over,” she said. “I was heartbroken when the doctor explained what happened. My mom and I cried a lot.”
While Williams and her family vowed she would return, those plans were also delayed by COVID-19.
Surgery to repair the injured knee was scheduled, but when her entire family contracted coronavirus a few days later, she missed a fortnight of therapy, thus requiring an additional surgery.
Williams’ mother, Nikki, a former college volleyball player at Tusculum University in Greeneville, and a coach, empathized with her daughter’s desire to return to the court.
Her parents met playing volleyball, and the sport served as a source of hope throughout the complex recovery.
“I’m so grateful for the support my family received,” Williams said. “I love them, but volleyball was never far from my mind. I wanted to get back on the court.”
Back at home, her father, Daniel, suffered through a fight with liver disease and nearly lost his life, yet thankfully survived.
During the same time period, Williams’ high school also merged to become part of West Ridge High School in Blountville.
With out-of-town family trips necessary to care for her father, Williams’ grandparents helped her recuperate from knee surgery; since they lived within the district, she enrolled at Science Hill.
Coach Laura Cook, who’s been at the Hilltopper helm since the 2016-2017 season, is impressed with her indefatigable player.
“Molly got hurt, battled back, and then came in to help the team tremendously,” Cook said. “She is gritty and playing great.”
The Lady ‘Toppers won the Big 5 Conference volleyball regular-season title in late September and were the No. 1 seed in the recent double-elimination District 1-AAA Volleyball Tournament at Daniel Boone High School in Gray.
With three wins in four evenings, they captured a third consecutive district title in a three-set match Oct. 6 over West Ridge before a boisterous crowd. It was the Lady ‘Toppers third straight District 1-AAA Tournament championship. And yes, both Holmes and Williams were named to the all-tournament team, with Holmes awarded the MVP and conference hitter of the year. In addition, Williams recently was given conference defensive player of the year honors.
The Lady Hilltoppers wrapped up the season with a loss to Morristown West in the Region 1-AAA Tournament at Morristown East High School on Monday evening. The five-set loss was a disappointing finish to a remarkable 32-9 season
During this memorable season, the team overcame losing a talented senior class, including five starters and multiple players now competing at the collegiate level. The current squad offers a diverse range of experience, with three seniors and two juniors, but also six sophomores.
“This team came in in June, and from the beginning, they knew what we needed to do, got to work, worked hard, and pulled together,” Cook explained. “What I like about them is they’re fun, always are rooting for each other, and have each other’s backs.”