Featuring senior-dominated lineup, Lady Bears expect to build on success


John Henson

Team members include, from left, front row: Kylie Jones, Savannah Hill, Peyton Lunsford, Ella Karst, Taytum Griffin, Hailey Austin, Faith Hoskins, Addison Gray and Cheyanne Rhymer; back row: coach Anthony Nolan, Preslee Hensley, Lacey Robinson, Paige Phillips, Jaylin Smith, Taylor Lunsford, Whitley Teague, Alley Stewart and Maddi Middleton; not pictured: Whitney Noe.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

After posting an unexpected 20-win season in 2022, the Harlan County Lady Bears are eager to take the next step with all five starters returning, including four seniors.
“We focused more on individual work in the off-season since we had just about everyone back. You don’t want to peak too early as a team,” said Anthony Nolan, who enters the third season in his second stint as coach of the Lady Bears. “We start out with a tough schedule with Knott (Central) and Knox (Central) right off the bat, but I expect us to pick up where we left off last season and continue to build.”
Junior point guard Ella Karst (16.4 points per game last season, 3.3 rebounds) is the only non-senior in the starting lineup but is the most experienced player on the roster as she enters her fourth year as a starter and the only Lady Bear ranked in the top 10 by both the Cats Pause and 13th Region Media Network.
“Ella gives us scoring and defensive balance,” Nolan said. “She’s a tenacious defender. That’s probably been the biggest surprise since last year. She scored consistently last year, but her defensive presence has improved this year. She’s one of the better on-the-ball defenders in the region. We’ll need her to make plays for us this year.”
Hailey Austin (5.5) and Taytum Griffin (5.7, 3.4), both seniors, are back as the starting wings where they provide 3-point threats on offense and athleticism on defense.
“Taytum and Hailey need to be consistent for us every night. They both improved last season,” Nolan said. “They are both better defensively and are able to stretch the defense with their shooting. Hailey has become become one of the better passers on the team and Taytum is one of the better defenders. We just need them to consistently hit the perimeter shots. Both have improved off the dribble.”
Jaylin Smith (10.8, 5.2), a 5-7 senior, is perhaps the most versatile player on the roster and often set the tone for the Lady Bears last season. When she played well, HCHS usually won. When she didn’t, it was usually a struggle.
“I feel she is one of the more versatile kids in the region and is a leader for us. She can match up inside and outside. She can handle the ball and plays downhill, which I like. She has also improved her range on her shot,” Nolan said. “We need her to be involved night in and night out. She has to be completely engaged for us to be successful, especially against the top-tier teams.”
Taylor Lunsford (6.0, 7.8), a 5-11 senior center, also played a big role in the Lady Bears’ success with her defense and tireless work on the glass.
“We need Taylor to be consistent from the line and do a better job of finishing plays,” Nolan said. “She could come close to averaging a double-double this year. We need her to be more of a scoring presence.”
Depth should also be a strength with sophomore guard Kylie Jones (3.9) and 5-8 junior forward Paige Phillips (2.5, 2.9) also playing key roles last year.
“Paige really makes us quick and has become more of a consistent scorer. She will play a big role in our success. She can play several positions, giving us a quick lineup or a big lineup,” Nolan said. “Kylie can handle the ball and can score. We need her to take a bigger role for us to be successful. She has the potential and skill to do that. She just has to play with confidence.”
Faith Hoskins, a 5-7 junior who transferred from Harlan, is also expected to see extensive action.
“Faith is a better rebounder than I anticipated. She can get the 50-50 balls out of her area, and I like that,” Nolan said. “She is getting stronger off the dribble. As she gets experience, I think she will be someone we can trust to go to in key situations.”
Cheyenne Rhymer and Maddi Middleton lead a large freshman class and could work into bigger varsity roles as the season progresses. Nolan has also been impressed with the play of 5-9 freshman forward Whitley Teague.
“They are doing a good job of leading the younger group with some experience,” Nolan said. “They could help us eventually.”
After finishing second to Bell County in the 52nd District each of the past two years, Nolan likes the Lady Bears’ chances of breaking through this season even though the district will feature three of the region’s top teams with Bell, HC and Harlan.
“I think with the experience we bring back, we should be competitive in our district,” Nolan said. “It’s a very competitive district and the rivalries are intense. IT will be competitive every night because each team brings back key players. I think we have our best shot in a few years. Bell is still considered in the top tier, and Harlan is very competitive. Middlesboro, with a new coach, could pull off some upsets. We have to be ready to play each and every night.”
Nolan is focusing on peaking late in the season as the Lady Bears did a season ago.
“We have to build one game at a time,” he said. “We need some girls to develop more confidence and want the ball in key situations. It’s hard to coach that. Basketball is a marathon, and we want to peak at the right time.”


Nov 28, 22 Knott County Central home 7:30 PM
Dec 1, 22 Knox Central home 7:30 PM
Dec 3, 22 Clay County away 4:30 PM
Dec 5, 22 Barbourville home 7:30 PM
Dec 6, 22 Whitley County away 7:30 PM
Dec 9, 22 Leslie County away 7:30 PM
Dec 13, 22 Bell County home 6:00 PM
Dec 16, 22 Pineville home 7:30 PM
Dec 19, 22 TBA
Dec 20, 22 TBA
Dec 20, 22 TBA
Dec 28, 22 Middlesboro at Pineville 12:45 PM Chain Rock Classic
Dec 29, 22 Pineville away 4:15 PM Chain Rock Classic
Dec 30, 22 John Hardin 11:00 AM Chain Rock Classic
Jan 3, 23 South Laurel home 6:30 PM
Jan 5, 23 Hazard away 7:30 PM
Jan 9, 23 Lynn Camp away 7:30 PM
Jan 13, 23 Middlesboro away 6:00 PM
Jan 17, 23 Bell County away 6:00 PM
Jan 20, 23 Knott County Central away 7:30 PM
Jan 23, 23 Leslie County home 7:30 PM
Jan 27, 23 Harlan away 6:00 PM
Jan 28, 23 Johnson Central home 7:30 PM
Jan 31, 23 Corbin home 7:30 PM
Feb 3, 23 Letcher County Central away 7:30 PM
Feb 7, 23 Harlan home 6:00 PM
Feb 10, 23 Middlesboro home 6:00 PM
Feb 11, 23 Barbourville away 4:30 PM
Feb 13, 23 Jackson County away 7:30 PM
Feb 17, 23 Jenkins home 7:30 PM