Nolan looking for consistency as Lady Bears continue rebuild

By John Henson, Managing Editor


For a Harlan County program that has set the bar high in its 13-year history, even a ninth trip to the regional semifinals last season capped a slightly disappointing year. It doesn’t figure to be any easier this season for a team that lost three starters from an 11-13 squad that saw its win total drop for a third straight season.
“We lack experience and consistency,” said Anthony Nolan, who enters his second season back with the Lady Bears and his eighth season overall. “We have kids who can score the ball one day and struggle the next and then hang their heads. We have to get past that. We have to be more consistent and play with confidence. We have kids capable of doing that, but they have to do it consistently day in and day out. A lot of our kids lack confidence, but I hope that will come with experience.”
One strength for the Lady Bears should be their balance.
“We have good depth this year and that makes our practices more competitive. We also have kids who can play multiple spots. That will allow us to create some matchup problems,” Nolan said. “I think we’ll have better balance this year and we’ll be quicker defensively.”
While the Lady Bears will have to find replacements in several spots, they don’t have to worry about point guard, where sophomore Ella Karst returns after averaging a team-high 15 points per game last season.
“One key for us to be successful is Ella taking on more of a leadership role, especially when she has the ball in her hands as much as she does. She leads by example and she competes, but she also has to be a vocal leader,” Nolan said. “She needs to be a little more consistent on offense. Sometimes she rushes her shot and doesn’t get her feet underneath her. We also want her to set herself up away from the ball.”
Kylie Jones (3.2 points per game last year), a freshman, played a key reserve role last year and is among the candidates to fill a starting job in the backcourt.
“We can put the ball in Kylie’s hands at times and move Ella to shooting guard. I like having that luxury,” Nolan said. “She has gotten stronger in the offseason. We need her to be a more aggressive scorer and be able to dribble and create shots for other players.
Jaylin Smith (6.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg), a junior for the second time, is entering her third season as a starter and can help in several positions.
“Jaylin can play two or three different spots. She is probably the most versatile kid I have because she can play inside or outside,” Nolan said. “She has increased her range and is capable of hitting the 3-ball now. She can also drive and post up. I think she can create some matchup problems for people. We need her to be consistent every night.”
Paige Phillips, a sophomore who saw action in 13 varsity games last year, will play a much bigger role this season at forward.
“Paige is one of the best athletes we have,” Nolan said. “She is physical enough to play inside. She has the speed to help us on defense. We want her to be more consistent with her shot.”
Taylor Lunsford (2.0, 4.1), a 5-11 junior, will take over at center after serving as the sixth man in most games last year. She was third on the squad in rebounding a season ago.
“Taylor is showing more consistency than last year and she has made improvements in finishing around the basket. She also communicates real well on defense,” Nolan said. “We think she’ll have a much more productive year this season because she’s become more consistent.”
Abbi Fields (2.1, 2.3), a 5-10 freshman who was a standout on the middle school level at James A. Cawood, will also see extensive action at center after transferring from Harlan.
“Abbi is a physical player with nice hands and a nice touch,” Nolan said. “I think she will allow us to play with a big lineup on occasion and give us depth at the four and five spots. She also has a wonderful attitude. She’s a great addition.”
As the only senior on the roster, Jaylin Preston is expected to play a key role off the Harlan County bench. Preston had several big games as a sophomore, including a district tournament win over Harlan, but then sat out last season. Nolan has been impressed with her work in practice this preseason.
“Jaylin will give us some speed on defense in that rotation,” he said. “She can help us on both ends.”
Taytum Griffin and Hailey Austin, both juniors, will compete for starting jobs at guard where they provides a 3-point threat.
“Taytum has been one of the most consistent shooters I have as far as stretching a defense. She also has a lot of speed, and we need her to give us more with her defense,” Nolan said. “Hailey has been a big bright spot preseason. She is playing with more confidence and consistency. She can stretch the defense and has become one of our better passers. Hailey will be a big asset for us this year.”
While he expects plenty of growing pains along the way, Nolan likes the Lady Bears’ chances of improving during the course of the season.
“We’re extremely inexperienced, but I see a lot of potential for growth,” Nolan said. “We have to buy in defensively. A lot of our offense has to come from our defense. I’m excited about what we can do defensively, but we have to be able to convert those stops and turnovers into points. I think this team has a bigger upside with more speed and depth. I think it will take some patience.
“We also have to learn to move without the ball and work together and get our timing. I think it will probably take the whole season to get there. Consistency and effort are the keys for us. If we continue to give the effort, I think we can get there and narrow that gap.”