From The Sidelines: Corbin, Laurels lead strong field of teams in race for 2024 13th Region title


Les Nicholson

Corbin guard Kallie Housley worked toward the basket in 13th Region Tournament action. Housley and the Lady Hounds will be among the favorites to win the region in 2024.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

After falling in last year’s regional semifinals, North Laurel was not the clear-cut choice by any means as the favorite for the 2023 season, especially with Corbin returning four starters from a championship team.
North was my pick, however, and made an impressive postseason run with victories over Harlan County, South Laurel and Jackson County to earn a trip to Rupp Arena. It was a six-team race this season with North and Corbin at the top, just ahead of South Laurel, Jackson County, Knox Central and Bell County. I expect those six to be at the top again with Pineville and Harlan battling two-time champ Jackson County for the All “A” title. Harlan County and Whitley County round out my top 10.
It’s time for my annual look back at the best of the season that just ended and a look ahead to what you can expect next year.

First team
G — Emily Sizemore, North Laurel
G — Brooke Nichelson, North Laurel
F — Abby Gilbert, Jackson County
F — Gracie Jo Wilder, Bell County
C — Halle Collins, Knox Central

Second team
G — Ella Karst, Harlan County
G — Kallie Housley, Corbin
G — Nadine Johnson, Pineville
G — Emily Cox, South Laurel
G — Kylie Clem, Corbin

Third team
G — Mataya Ausmus, Bell County
G — Darcie Anderson, Corbin
G — Aymanni Wynn, Harlan
F — Kylie Noe, Harlan
C — Chloe McKnight, North Laurel

Fourth team
G — Shelbie Mills, South Laurel
G — Jaylin Smith, Harlan County
G — Peyton Mabe, South Laurel
F — Raegan Walker, Corbin
C — Kena Ward, Jackson County

Best juniors
Gracie Jo Wilder, Bell County
Kallie Housley, Corbin
Ella Karst, Harlan County
Kylie Clem, Corbin
Nadine Johnson, Pineville

Best sophomores
Halle Collins, Knox Central
Brooke Nichelson, North Laurel
Abby Gilbert, Jackson County
Aymanni Wynn, Harlan
Kylie Noe, Harlan

Best freshmen
Kairi Lamb, Bell County
Rachel Howard, Pineville
Aubrey Bundy, South Laurel
Izzy Walker, Corbin
Layla Brock, Barbourville


2023-2024 rankings

(Players are listed by their class for the 2024 season)

1. Corbin (22-10) — Led by an all-senior backcourt of Kallie Housley (16.2 points per game, 4.3 rebounds per game last season), Kylie Clem (16.4, 4.3), Darcie Anderson (11.0, 2.6) and Bailey Stewart (8.1, 3.4), the Lady Hounds are my pick in 2024 over two talented by young Laurel County teams. Junior Raegan Walker (7.3, 7.2), a star in the 2022 championship run, also returns to the Corbin lineup. Senior Mahayla Jordan (3.1, 2.9) and sophomore Izzy Walker (2.8) provide depth.

2. South Laurel (19-15) — After losing several key players before the season started for various reasons, the Lady Cardinals weren’t quite themselves during much of the regular season, but a young squad put together an impressive postseason run that puts South back in position as a contender in 2024. The Lady Cards bring back four starters, including a couple of the state’s top freshmen in Peyton Mabe (10.1, 3.8) and Shelbie Mills (11.9). Sophomore guard Aubrey Bundy (3.6, 3.6) and 5-10 freshman center Maci Messer (7.0, 3.9) also return to the lineup with juniors Kenlea Murray (6.6. 5.5) and Jaylen Smith (6.2, 3.0) in the mix for the final starting slot.

3. North Laurel (30-7) — With a veteran squad returning, including four starters, the Lady Jaguars are in position to repeat even with the graduation of region player of the year Emily Sizemore. Chloe McKnight (12.7, 7.8), a 6-4 senior center, will be joined by junior guards Brooke Nichelson (14.6, 5.6) and Bella Sizemore (6.9, 3.5) and senior guard Jaelyn Black (5.5, 2.3). Senior forward Gracie McKnight (3.5, 3.3) and freshman forward Marielle Claybrook (3.4, 4.2) will also play key roles.

4. Knox Central (23-6) — Led by one of the state’s top sophomores last season in Halle Collins (27.1, 14.4), the Lady Panthers should again dominate the 51st District and challenge the regional heavyweights. Junior guard Timberly Frederick (11.1) provides a perimeter threat in a backcourt that also features junior Hannah Melton (4.3, 3.7), senior Jaylynn Faine (4.2, 5.3) and freshman McKenzie Hensley (4.5, 2.1).

5. Jackson County (22-10) — Losing the imposing presence of 6-4 center Kena Ward to graduation will be a blow on defense and the boards, the Lady Generals could make another run at the region with 6-2 junior forward Abby Gilbert (16.2, 10.5) again leading the way. Senior guard Madison Curry (7.8, 3.3) and 5-11 senior forward Kylee Shannon (9.8, 5.9) also return. Senior forward Jenna Creech (6.0, 3.9) and junior guards Sammie Creech and Annslee Nichols could also play key roles.

6. Bell County (23-10) — Despite two straight first-round regional tournament exits courtesy of Jackson County, the Lady Cats remain the favorite in the 52nd District Tournament with four starters returning. Gracie Jo Wilder (19.8, 8.5), a 6-1 senior forward, leads a long Bell frontline that also features 6-3 sophomore Kairi Lamb (5.9, 10.2) 5-9 junior Kylee Greer-Gann (2.2, 6.8). Junior guard Lauren McGeorge (14.0, 2.7) also returns, with senior Halle Jones likely rounding out the lineup.

7. Pineville (22-9) —With Nadine Johnson (21.1, 8.7) returning for her senior season at point guard, the Lady Lions should continue to get better after improving by 14 wins last season. Juniors Ava Arnett (12.4, 4.8) and Kamryn Biliter (2.7, 2.7) and 5-9 sophomore forward Rachel Howard (8.6, 6.3) are also returning starters. Sophomore guard Malley Smith (3.6) moves up from a sixth-man role to round out the lineup.

8. Harlan (11-18) — The Lady Dragons should be in position to end a five-year regional tournament drought with junior wings Aymanni Wynn (18.9, 6.3) and Kylie Noe (16.3, 5.9) and senior point guard Emma Owens (13.7) giving Harlan the most experienced lineup in the 52nd District. Junior forward Leah Davis (5.7, 4.4) also returns. Junior guard Addison Jackson and sophomore forward Raegan Goodman played key reserve roles last season.

9. Harlan County (22-10) — With four starters graduating, the Lady Bears and coach Anthony Nolan will rebuild around standout senior guard Ella Karst (19.4, 3.4). Junior guard Kylie Jones (2.3) and senior Faith Hoskins (2.3, 2.0) will move into the lineup, along with 5-8 senior forward Paige Phillips (3.0, 2.9), Sophomore guards Cheyenne Rhymer, Maddi Middleton and Savannah Hill and sophomore forwards Whitley Teague and Lacey Robinson will also compete for starting jobs.

10. Whitley County (10-18) — Led by freshman forward Jonna Rice (10.9, 2.9) and freshman guard Khylea Ray Collier (7.4), the Lady Colonels may be in position to become more of a factor in the brutal 50th District after struggling to overcome the loss of several key players to district rivals in recent years.

Best of the rest

Barbourville (4-20) — Even though they didn’t win many games last season, the Lady Tigers always competed under first-year coach Amy Shields and could move into the top 10 in 2024 if the hard work continues. Senior point guard Sarah Smith (15.9, 10.0) averaged a rare double-double and returns to lead the squad, along with senior Lauren Smith (5.1, 5.5), junior Cheyenne Sizemore (2.3, 2.6), junior Danni Jordan (6.1, 4.7) and sophomore Layla Brock (9.5, 5.9).

Williamsburg (11-20) — The Lady Jackets feature one of the region’s best young players in 5-10 freshman wing Madisyn Hopkins (19.4, 8.3), who will again team with 6-0 senior center Allie Wilson (16.5, 8.3) to give Williamsburg a dangerous tandem on the boards. Freshmen Abby Moses (4.8, 4.8) and Presley Spicer (2.4, 3.6) are also returning starters,

Clay County (12-19) — It’s very odd not to see the Lady Tigers near the top of the rankings, but it’s tough to put them in the top 10 with three starters graduating from a team that struggled to compete in the tough 49th District. Senior guard Sidney Jones (9.6, 5.4) and sophomore guard Lauryn Sizemore (9.0, 2.0) are back to lead the rebuilding effort. Freshman guard Julia Collins (4.0) should also play a bigger role.

Middlesboro (1-18) — Everyone returns for the Lady Jackets, who won only one game against region competition a year ago. Junior guard Keevi Betts (16.4, 5.8) will need more help if Middlesboro is to make big strides next season. Senior forward Halaya Brown (5.0, 2.9) also returns, along with freshman guard Morgans Martin (3.6, 3.1) and sophomores Addyson Larew (4.1, 3.5) and Trinity Partin.

Lynn Camp (6-25) — Four starters graduate, leaving coach Josh Mobley an even bigger rebuilding project in his second season than in his first. Julie Moore (4.0, 5.9), a 5-10 freshman, is the only starter coming back. Sophomores Lauren Partin (4.5, 4.9) and Lily Henize should play bigger roles, along with eighth-grader Sayde Mobley.

Oneida Baptist (3-22) — With no victories against 13th Region competition, the Lady Mountaineers will have a hard time moving up in the rankings even with three starters returning, including junior Charity Carpenter (4.1, 3.1), sophomore Bailey Bayes (9.8, 6.0) and 5-10 junior center Emily Wagers (4.2, 6.0).

Red Bird (no record) — The Lady Cardinals took a year off from varsity competition due to low numbers, so there’s no way to know what to expect at this point; but it will be a slow process if Red Bird does return next season.

Jackson County’s Abby Gilbert and Bell County’s Gracie Jo Wilder battled in the 13th Region Tournament. Wilder and Gilbert will be among the region’s top players again in 2024. (Les Nicholson)