For Megan Devine, Jamie Rutledge, Ivey Rice and Meredith Hardy, East Tennessee State University truly is the home team.
Yes, the quartet hails from either ETSU’s home of Johnson City, Tenn., or Kingsport, Tenn., a 30-minute drive from the ETSU campus. But playing collegiate volleyball is not where the relationship that Bucs Head Coach Lindsey Devine explains as “sister-like” began.
Megan and Jamie began their friendship in seventh and eighth grade, playing club volleyball for the Kingsport Volleyball Club. Meredith Hardy soon joined them, and they all attended the same high school.
Ivey Rice was the on the outside looking in, playing with a competitor until the KVC trio convinced to join them.
“They were good,” says Rice. “I actually had fun playing against them in high school, but they seemed to have something that was a lot of fun. They looked like they really had fun playing together. So I gave up my other team to play with them.”
Megan takes credit for being the catalyst that created the relationships that each one values greatly.
“It started with me,” says Devine. “Jamie and I were playing together, then we latched on to Meredith, and then we all convinced Ivey to join us.”
Head Coach Devine appreciates the relationship that her daughter, a junior, and the three sophomores have developed and understands how valuable it is on and off the court.
“It in uncanny how they have a sense for each other on the floor,” says Lindsey Devine. “They know where each other will be, and they know how to motivate each other.
“But what also has come out of them knowing each other so well and caring for each other the way they do is that as a result our team plays as a family. They are leaders, particularly Megan, and they genuinely care for each other. There is a true commitment to team and it has translated into a family environment.”
They all agree that it wasn’t too tough of a sell to join the Bucs. “It was actually comforting to come onto campus and join a team knowing that someone already has your back,” said Jamie Rutledge, who tallied a double-double in the Bucs’ victory over Mercer Thursday night.
“We all know and understand what coach is expecting from us and what she wants from us,” says Megan. And we know that we are there for each other, and that is one of the reasons that we have been successful.
The Johnson City/Kingsport “pipeline” is one that remains active to this day, as each of the players continue to go back to their high schools and their club team, keeping track of what is happening and along with casting an eye on the local talent.
Some of that talent is Ivey Rice’s younger sister, who will be joining the Bucs next season.
“They give a lot back to the club and to their high schools. I think that is largely because of their relationships that they began in the same ways that those younger players are doing so today.”