Those words together gain attention no matter where they are spoken within the Virginia high school volleyball scene.
“We’re the most hated school in Virginia,” Amy Reed, Gate City’s volleyball coach since 2003, said of the mix of respect and animosity other teams feel toward her squad regardless of where it’s playing. “We wear a bull’s-eye. It doesn’t matter what kind of year we’re having, teams are going to give their best to beat us.”
The animosity results in large part from the program’s success that Reed and her husband, Darren, formerly the program’s head coach, have built since 1998.
Amy Reed was the assistant coach to her husband for five years with the Lady Blue Devils until taking over the program in 2003 when the VHSL moved volleyball season from winter to fall.
Gate City’s program has been strong since its inception, but it reached another level when the Reeds came to the Scott County school just before the turn of the century.
The Lady Blue Devils have won six state volleyball championships, in 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2013 and 2014. That’s more than any other Class 2 or Class 1 team in Virginia and the second most in the commonwealth overall. Only Class 4 Loudon County, with an even dozen, has more state volleyball titles.
Gate City also has finished as state runner- up four times, in 2002, 2006, 2007 and 2010.
The success, Amy Reed said, is all about the kids.
“Their sacrifice, their commitment, their hard work, that’s what it’s all about,” she said. “They prepare for this game with their heart and soul and as they progress through the program, their work ethic, leadership and discipline are what makes us what we are.”
THE EARLY DAYS
Reed tracks the success of the program over the past 20 years or so from another successful program as well as one of the state’s best high school coaches from just a couple hours up Interstate 81.
Darren Reed was an assistant coach for two years at George Wythe in Wytheville under legendary coach Lily Moore, who totaled 372 wins during her career.
When the Reeds came to Gate City, they saw no need to reinvent the wheel.
“We incorporated her coaching techniques and strategies into Gate City volleyball and from 1998, the success of the program just took off,” Amy Reed said.
MORE IN THE TROPHY CASE
Gate City’s program found itself at the pinnacle of high school sports in 2002 when the Lady Blue Devils made their first trip to the state championship match.
Side-out scoring was still in play when Gate City took on Altavista. The Lady Blue Devils won the first set 15-8 but lost the next two, 15-12, 16-14, and finished as runner-up.
The following year, volleyball season moved to the fall and the VHSL switched to rally scoring.
Another year passed before Gate City returned to the state championship, this time to square off with fellow Southwest Virginia power Northwood. The Lady Blue Devils finally achieved their dream by claiming a 21-25, 26-24, 25-23, 25-12 victory.
Three seniors on that 2004 team — Kristen Salyer, Krista Shelton and Lindsey Musick — were on the 2001 state runner-up squad. They, along with underclassman Emily Helms, played crucial roles in winning the school’s first volleyball title.
The Lady Blue Devils didn’t stop there.
That trip to the state final was the first in a string of seven straight for Gate City. The Lady Blue Devils won four of the seven, including in 2005 when Helms and a freshman named Chelsea Spivey powered the program to back-to-back state crowns.
Spivey went on to become one of the best players ever to wear a Gate City volleyball uniform. She helped the Lady Blue Devils tally four straight Region D championships, two state titles and two state runner-up finishes.
In the process, Spivey broke the school record for career aces with 280 as well as the VHSL and school records for career assists with 3,538 — including 972 in a single season. She also totaled a state-record 7,492 sets over her career and still holds the school mark of 2,151 sets in a season.
Reed said the leadership of those such as Spivey, Helms and Lindsey Burke — who played on the 2008 and ’09 state title teams and the 2006 and ’07 state runner-up teams — helped set the standard for Gate City volleyball.
“With their experience and leadership, they were able to teach and prepare that championship mentality to their younger teammates,” she said.
After its state runner-up season in 2010, Gate City did not return to the state final until 2013. That team — led by Haley Wolfe and featuring not a single senior — claimed the state championship with a sweep of Luray.
Wolfe was an all-state player for three straight years and the state player of the year in 2014 when the Lady Blue Devils won their sixth state title with a sweep of Riverheads.
“That was a fun bunch,” Reed said. “Their chemistry was so strong. They knew each other so well and there were times they didn’t even need to talk on the floor because they trusted their teammates and knew what they were going to do without even talking.”
The 2013 and ’14 titles were also special to Reed because Haley, her daughter, was on the team.
“It’s always special when you can share something special like that with your family,” Coach Reed said.
STILL A FAMILY
Regardless which generation of players has come through Gate City, Reed said one of the special things about the program is that players grow as teammates and friends throughout the years.
“It’s a joy to watch them grow physically, mentally and spiritually and then carry what they’ve learned into adulthood,” Reed said. “They’re still close today.”
All of that is being a part of Gate City athletics, the coach said.
“When you put on that uniform, you’re playing for that team, for that program, for that school and for the community,” Reed said.