Year in review: Volleyball firsts highlight Thomas Walker's year

Kevin Mays • May 18, 2020 at 10:00 AM

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a year-in-review series looking at athletic achievements by Southwest Virginia high schools in 2019-20.

EWING — The fall of 2019 was a strong season for Thomas Walker athletics, one that included a record-breaking run for the volleyball team.

Other Pioneers teams made their marks during the fall and winter seasons before the coronavirus pandemic brought everything to a stop.


Coach Kristen Parker’s squad started the year strong and played that way throughout the season, establishing several school firsts along the way to an 18-9 finish.

Sparked by Times News All-Southwest Virginia honorable mention selection Talyn Dibrell and others, Thomas Walker advanced to the VHSL Class 1 volleyball tournament for the first time in school history.

The trip to the state tournament came on the heels of the program’s first-ever regional semifinal victory, over Holston, which followed the Lady Pioneers recording the program’s first regional tournament win ever, against Grundy in the Region 1D quarterfinals.

The Lady Pioneers fell to Patrick Henry in the Region 1D final and saw their season end in the state quarterfinals against traditional power Auburn.


Nick Johnson’s squad opened the season 6-1 before injuries and tough Cumberland District competition led to a three-game skid.

Despite the tough sledding in the final weeks of the regular season, the Pioneers advanced to the Region 1D playoffs. They came up short against Chilhowie in the regional quarterfinals.

Running back Kenny Ball, tight end Logan Ely and defensive lineman Jason Cowden were Times News All-Southwest Virginia second-team selections.


Thomas Walker flexed its muscles throughout basketball season on its way to a 21-5 mark.

The Lady Pioneers, led by sophomore Lakin Burke, who averaged 16.5 points, 9 rebounds, 7 deflections and 3 steals per game, advanced to the Region 1D quarterfinals.

Burke, Abby Bullins, Bella Schwartz and Tenley Jackson, among others, carried Thomas Walker to a second-place finish in the Cumberland District standings, but the Lady Pioneers were tripped up by Twin Springs in the district tournament.

They rebounded in the opening round of the Region 1D tournament, topping Rural Retreat before falling to Honaker in the regional semifinals.


Led by Cameron Grabeel and Adam Hollandsworth, Thomas Walker finished second behind Castlewood in the Cumberland District championships at Scott County Park & Golf Course in Gate City.


The Pioneers struggled through a tough year on the hardwood, though they were competitive in several games.

Junior Caleb Yeary, a three-year starter, was a shining light. He averaged 21.8 points per game and led the team in steals and assists.

Yeary has already surpassed the 1,000-point plateau and has 1,340 heading into his senior season.

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