Sydney McKinney made plenty of memories playing hoops in a previous iteration of the Mountain 7 District and now her head-coaching debut will occur leading a program in the top girls basketball league in Southwest Virginia.
The 24-year-old native of Big Stone Gap, Virginia, is the new boss at John Battle High School after serving one season as an assistant coach with the Trojans.
“I have had a passion for basketball for as long as I can remember,” McKinney said. “John Battle has given me the opportunity to share my love and knowledge for the game with young athletes. I really enjoyed the experience as an assistant coach and the relationships I have built with the athletes in the program.”
She takes over for Jeff Adkins, who retired after spending the final six seasons of his 41-year coaching career guiding Battle. The Trojans were 10-16 last winter and advanced to the VHSL Region 2D tournament.
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“Coach Adkins has not only brought me into the girls basketball program, but into the world of teaching with open arms,” McKinney said. “There is probably not a day that goes by at John Battle that you will not see me right by his side. I have learned so much from Coach Adkins and will use everything that he has taught me. I hope to make him proud and I know he is always just a phone call away.”
Adkins gave McKinney his full endorsement.
“I think Sydney will be a fine basketball coach,” Adkins said. “Sydney is young and full of energy. She has a great feel for the game and is very knowledgeable. She was a great addition to my staff.”
McKinney’s familiarity with the Mountain 7 District goes well beyond last season’s assistant-coaching stint.
A 2016 graduate of Union, McKinney was an all-state performer in three sports while competing in the Clinch Mountain Conference (the forerunner to the Mountain 7 District) and led the basketball team at Union to a state runner-up finish in her final season.
McKinney scored 1,210 points and was an All-Old Dominion Athletic Conference performer at Emory & Henry College as well.
“I have played and coached at both the high school and college level which has given me valuable insight on the game and what it takes to be successful,” McKinney said. “Being at John Battle for the last year has helped me build better relationships with the athletes that are a part of the girls program.”
She spent her final semester at E&H assisting Wasps head coach Jaclyn Dickens, who has long been impressed with McKinney’s insight.
“She had the highest IQ of anyone I coached at that age,” Dickens said. “She just sees the game differently than most, reads the defense and what you can do to execute and be successful. You could ask her to do something once and she’d do it from then out. … I’m so excited for Sydney; so deserving.”
McKinney’s first team at Battle should be pretty strong as the Trojans lose just two seniors, even though one of those departures is 1,000-point scorer Anna McKee.
Of course, the rugged Mountain 7 District has resident powerhouses in 2022 VHSL Class 2 state champ Wise County Central, along with Ridgeview and Gate City. Earning wins on a night-in, night-out basis is a tough task.
“I am grateful to the John Battle administration and athletic department for the opportunity to coach and their faith in me,” McKinney said. “I am very excited for what the future holds.”
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