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Sarah Swift proves to be a leader for JCHS girls team

Editor’s note: This article featuring Sarah Swift, was written by Tim Chambers, an Elizabethton Star writer, before the end-of-season tournament was held. Our thanks to Mr. Chambers and The Star for allowing us to reprint it in The Tomahawk.
By Tim Chambers
[email protected]
The overall wins might not reflect it, but Johnson County is beginning to show it can hang with the elite teams in the Three Rivers Conference. And they did so rather “Swiftly.”
One reason has been the play of senior forward Sarah Swift. She currently is averaging 14.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. She carries a 3.8 overall GPA in the classroom and is being recruited to play college volleyball.
Coach Todd Whittemore marveled at having a player like Swift. He said a lot of things that Sarah does won’t show up in the box score.
“She’s been a team leader all three years since I’ve been here,” said Whittemore. “If any progress has been made in our program, she’s a big part of it. She ranks as one of the top 10 leaders that I’ve ever coached. Sarah will be successful in whatever she does.”
Whittemore took over a program three years ago that had basically hit rock bottom. Three years later he’s respected by his players and credited with turning Johnson County into a contender.
“Coach Whitt is responsible for the improvement that people see,” said Swift. “He came in and taught us how to play the correct way, plus he cares about us. He’s built this team up since day one, and we were awful.  It’s been one of the best things to ever happen to me. Not only is he a good basketball coach, but he’s an excellent person. He’s not just about basketball — he’s about other things, like family. He wants to establish relationships with his players, and that’s important. It’s good to know that we have a coach that cares what’s going on in our lives outside the basketball gym. We try and play our hardest for him.”
That was evident when Whittemore first came to Johnson County.
“He took us to a summer camp at Tennessee,” said Swift with a chuckle. “We were awful. We played a team that was super good but younger than us, and (we) got beat by 40. Their coach came over after the game and commended us for playing hard and not giving up. ‘They play their tails off,’ she would say. We decided right them that we might not be the most talented team around, but we could play hard and not give up. I think we’ve done that and it’s starting to show.”
Close losses to Unicoi County, Elizabethton, Happy Valley and Sullivan East are certainly attention-getters to those teams and coaches. Swift hopes the team can take it a step further when tournament time rolls around.
“It’s great that people see we can be competitive outside of volleyball and softball,” she said. “We want to get to that regional game and host it at Johnson County. It’s been so long since the people up here have seen that. It would mean a lot for us and to Coach Whitt.”
Whittemore knows the value of Swift’s presence both on and off the floor. He compared to like having a “lady hen” in the house.
“It’s called “proven leader,” said Whittemore about the comparison. “They handle things in the locker room that coaches don’t have to. Sarah is that type of leader. She takes care of the little things that I don’t have to worry about.”
Swift’s career on the hardwood will continue, but it won’t be shooting hoops. She’ll probably take her talents to Emory & Henry to play college volleyball.
“I love basketball, but my heart and abilities favor volleyball,” said Swift. “It something that I’ve enjoyed doing since junior high. I would play it for the rest of my life if I could. The team is close in basketball and like a family, and that’s why I love it just as good as volleyball. It’s so nice to have chemistry with people and have so much fun. Plus we have a coach with a ton of patience. If he hadn’t we would still be where we were on day one. He’s put so much of his time in to helping us get better. We really appreciate it.”
Sarah is the daughter of Sherry Slagle and Doran Swift Jr. She has a younger brother, Dokken.
Swift’s basketball trunks might be traded in for the volleyball shorts, but one is for certain: She’s hoping that the Longhorns can sting a few opponents in the tournaments before becoming a “Wasp.”