South, North should battle again in 2022 for top spot in 13th Region


Les Nicholson

North Laurel guard Hailee Valentine worked through the South Laurel defense in the 13th Region Tournament finals.

By John Henson, From The Sidelines

Much like in my boys 13th Region rankings from a week ago, I predicted the correct two teams in the 13th Region final for 2021. I just had the wrong winner.
North Laurel and South Laurel were my picks this time a year ago, with North tabbed as the winner. North was indeed the favorite all year long and was undefeated against 13th Region competition before falling to defending champ South Laurel in the finals. I’m going with the same two teams in 2022 and have changed my mind several times in the past week on the winner. I’ll give the edge to South as a team that still appears to be improving.
The following is my annual look back at the best of the previous year and what you can expect in the season to come. While I did miss the eventual champ, all eight of my regional tournament picks last March made the field this March.

All-Region Team
First team
G – Hailee Valentine, North Laurel
G – Emily Sizemore, North Laurel
G – Kallie Housley, Corbin
G – Shelby Stewart, Corbin
C – Rachel Presley, South Laurel

Second team
G – Nadine Johnson, Bell County
G – Mikkah Siler, Williamsburg
G – Whitney Caldwell, Pineville
F – Gracie Jo Wilder, Whitley County
C – Talyah McQueen, Bell County

Third team
G – Taylor Asher, Clay County
G – Caylan Mills, Knox Central
G – Presley Partin, Knox Central
F – Kailey Owens, Middlesboro
C – Raigan King, Pineville

Fourth team
G – Ella Karst, Harlan County
G – Alyssa Gibson, Red Bird
F – Aymanni Wynn, Harlan
F – Kylie Noe, Harlan
C – Chloe McKnight, North Laurel

Best juniors
Hailee Valentine, North Laurel
Emily Sizemore, North Laurel
Rachel Presley, South Laurel
Kailey Owens, Middlesboro
Caylan Mills, Knox Central

Best sophomores
Kallie Housley, Corbin
Talyah McQueen, Bell County
Chloe McKnight, North Laurel
Reagan Jones, South Laurel
Clara Collins, South Laurel

Best freshmen
Nadine Johnson, Bell County
Gracie Jo Wilder, Whitley County
Chloe McKnight, North Laurel
Ella Karst, Harlan County
Aymanni Wynn, Harlan


2021-2022 rankings
 (Players are listed by their class for the 2022 season. Those who plan to repeat a grade due to rules passed this year due to covid delays aren’t figured into the rankings since those decisions are not official)

1. South Laurel (20-10) — A strong finish pushed South to its second straight state tournament and a third is very possible with four starters returning, led by 6-2 senior center Rachel Presley (14.4, 7.3). The Lady Cards also feature one of the best forward tandems in eastern Kentucky with 5-10 junior Reagan Jones (9.5, 5.6) and 5-11 junior Clara Collins (7.0, 2.5). Sophomore guard Kylie Clem (6.4, 2.3) and junior guard Emily Cox (7.2, 6.5) also return. Junior forward Gracie Turner (4.0, 4.1) and senior guard Corbin Miller (3.1) will again play key roles.

2. North Laurel (24-5) — Despite being one of the state’s top teams in 2021, the Lady Jaguars had no seniors and will be in position for a fifth straight trip to the 13th Region finals. Being able to beat South when it counts is the biggest question facing North heading into 2022. Senior guard Hailee Valentine (18.4, 4.0) and Emily Sizemore (14.6, 5.9) are back, along with freshmen guards Bella Sizemore (7.3, 5.2) and Brooke Nichelson (9.0, 3.8). Chloe McKnight (9.6, 6.6), a 6-1 sophomore, provides an imposing presence in the middle. Freshman forward Saige McClure (2.7, 3.3) also returns.

3. Bell County (22-5) — With four starters returning, the Lady Cats are again the team to beat in the 52nd District and could challenge the Laurels for 13th Region supremacy. Sophomore guard Nadine Johnson (13.2, 4.4) is becoming one of the region’s best players and leads a backcourt that also features seniors Mataya Ausmus (11.5, 2.9) and Ashtyn Meyers (13.1, 3.1). Taliyah McQueen (11.2, 12.0) is one of the region’s best in the post with her double-double average. Freshman guard Lauren McGeorge (4.7) will likely round out the lineup. Senior guard Kayleigh Cox should also see significant action.

4. Knox Central (12-7) — Losing four-year starter Presley Partin will be a blow, but the Lady Panthers should continue improving with senior guards Caylan Mills (13.2, 3.6) and Zoey Liford (9.1, 2.2) and 5-10 senior forward Brianna Gallagher (14.2, 7.1) returning, along with star freshman forward Halle Collins (17.8, 8.5), who missed most of the season with an injury soon after transferring from North Laurel. Sophomore guards Jaylynn Faine (3.0, 2.7) and Timberly Frederick (3.2) should also play big roles.

5. Whitley County (16-11) — Led by 5-10 sophomore center Gracie Jo Wilder (14.6, 7.0) and 5-9 sophomore guard Darcie Anderson (10.2, 4.1), the Lady Colonels should again be in position to challenge the 13th Region heavyweights despite losing five seniors, including two starters. Senior forward Bailey Brown and sophomore guard Marissa Douglas (10.4, 3.3) will also play key roles.

6. Corbin (14-11) — The Lady Hounds were the best team not in the regional tournament this year and will have to fight for a spot again in 2022 in the same district with South Laurel and Whitley County. Junior guard Kallie Housley (17.6, 5.0) established herself as one of the region’s top players in her first year at Corbin and should continue to get better. Junior guard Bailey Stewart (9.4, 4.8) and 5-8 senior forward Kaila Stidham (4.0, 3.0) are the other returning starters. Sophomore guards Mahayla Jordan (3.1) and Raegan Walker (8.5, 3.7) will play even bigger roles in 2022.

7. Harlan (8-15) —The Lady Dragons will feature one of the region’s top young tandems in sophomore Aymanni Wynn (13.9, 8.5) and freshman Kylie Noe (13.0, 8.0), both great scorers and rebounders. Junior point guard Emma Owens (6.6, 2.3), sophomore forward Faith Hoskins (5.5, 2.3) and 5-10 freshman center Abbi Fields (2.1, 2.3) are also back from the postseason starting lineup.

8. Jackson County (11-10) —The Lady Generals will feature perhaps the region’s most imposing frontline with 6-4 junior Kenady Ward (11.1, 8.0) and 5-10 sophomore Kylee Shannon (11.1, 7.4) returning. Senior guards Eden Lakes (6.0, 2.7) and Natalie Carl (9.4, 2.0) are also returning starters. Junior guard Madison Marcum (2.2) or 5-8 sophomore forward Jenna Creech (2.6, 2.8) could round out the lineup.

9. Harlan County (11-13) — Sophomore guard Ella Karst (15.0, 2.5) and senior forward Jaylin Smith (6.4, 4.9) are returning starters from a 52nd District runner-up team. Freshman guard Kylie Jones (3.2, 2.1) and 5-11 junior center Taylor Lunsford (2.0, 4.1) were the team’s top reserves last year and should move up. Several others will compete for starting jobs, including sophomore guard Paige Phillips, junior guards Hailey Austin and Taytum Griffin and eighth-grade forward Leah Davis.

10. Clay County (13-9) — Replacing point guard Taylor Asher will be tough to overcome, but the Lady Tigers returns everyone else, including senior guard Courtney Jones (7.5, 5.8), junior guard Jaylen Combs (7.4), junior forward Mackenzie Sizemore (4.3, 4.0) and sophomore guard Madison Curry (10.0, 5.4).


Best of the rest:

Middlesboro (9-18) — Led by one of the region’s top players in senior forward Kailey Owens (17.9, 9.1), the Lady Jackets bring back four starters and could be in position to end a long string of first-round district exits. Senior guard Mallory James (5.8, 3.1) and freshman guard Keevi Betts (11.6, 3.1) also return, along with 5-6 sophomore center Halaya Brown.

Pineville (15-5) — Four starters and 46 points are gone from one of the school’s best teams, which means the Lady Lions will be starting over. Junior guard Abigale Jackson (4.8, 2.3) returns to the starting lineup, with standout freshman Ava Arnett (4.5, 2.5) also back after serving as the team’s sixth man in the postseason run to a 51st District title. Juniors Halle Jones, Mckenzie Widner and Makenna Partin should also play bigger roles.

Lynn Camp (9-17) — One of the region’s most improved teams last year, the Lady Cats bring back four starters, including junior guards Abby Mabe (11.3, 4.9), and Alissa Crumpler (9.1, 7.8), junior forward Lindsey Cox (3.8, 2.5) and 5-9 sophomore forward Jorja Carnes (8.3, 2.7). Alyssa Mounce (2.1, 2.8), a 5-10 sophomore, also returns.

Williamsburg (10-16) — The Lady Jackets lose three starters, including Mikkah Siler (26.3, 11.2), the state’s fourth leading scorer. Senior guard Kaylee Graham (10.0, 3.7) and sophomore guard Lylah Mattingly (4.0, 3.7) are returning starters, with junior guard Zoe Brown (2.1) and 5-10 sophomore forward Allie Wilson (5.0, 3.7) likely moving into bigger roles.

Red Bird (7-17) — Led by the region’s second leading scorer in senior point guard Alyssa Gibson (24.5, 7.4), the Lady Cardinals bring back everyone from a team that was much more competitive against good teams than usual. Senior guards Lexi Bowling (8.3, 8.3), Liberty Taylor (9.9) and Halee Jackson (5.4, 2.5) also return, along with eighth-grade forward Bryleigh King.

Barbourville (3-19) — With everyone expected to return, the Lady Tigers should be in position to take a step up in Scott Broughton’s second season back in coaching. Sophomore guard Sarah Smith (10.4, 8.6) was one of the region’s most pleasant surprises in 2021. Also back are sophomore guards Aubrey Woolum (3.7, 4.7) and Lauren Smith (3.5, 2.6), senior guard Abby Gray (5.6, 3.0) and 5-8 senior forward Aimee Kate Woolum (9.7, 7.9)

Oneida Baptist (No record) — The Lady Mountaineers will be returning after taking a year off due to covid regulations that reduced the student population at the school.