Lady Jags edge Corbin, South, Bell as early favorite in race for 2023 girls regional title


Les Nicholson

Emily Sizemore is one of four starters returning for North Laurel in the 2022-2023 season. She averaged 14.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last season.

By John Henson, From The Sidelines

During a season in which there was no clear-cut favorite, it’s probably no surprise that there were some surprises before the Corbin Lady Hounds emerged as the 13th Region champion.
It was a five-team race all season with Corbin, North Laurel, South Laurel, Knox Central and Bell County vying for the top spot. Corbin entered the tourney as a district runner-up following a loss to South Laurel in the 50th District finals, then the Lady Hounds had the toughest path to the title but knockoff off Knox Central, North Laurel and South Laurel to win its first regional championship since 2014.
I expect South Laurel, North Laurel, Corbin and Bell County to be the favorites in 2023 when, again, there probably won’t be one dominant team.
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 — Hailee Valentine, North Laurel
G — Emily SIzemore, North Laurel
G — Kallie Housley, Corbin
F — Gracie Jo Wilder, Bell County
C — Rachel Presley, South Laurel

Second team
G — Nadine Johnson, Bell County
G — Ella Karst, Harlan County
G — Shelby Stewart, Corbin
F — Clara Collins, South Laurel
C — Halle Collins, Knox Central

Third team
G — Marissa Douglas, Whitley County
G — Presley Partin, Knox Central
F — Brooke Nichelson, North Laurel
F — Abby Gilbert, Jackson County
C — Brianna Gallagher, Barbourville

Fourth team
G — Courtney Jones, Clay County
G — Darcie Anderson, Corbin
G — Aymanni Wynn, Harlan
F — Kylie Noe, Harlan
C — Kenady Ward, Jackson County

Best juniors
Emily Sizemore, North Laurel
Clara Collins, South Laurel
Kenady Ward, Jackson County
Jaylin Smith, Harlan County
Emily Cox, South Laurel

Best sophomores
Gracie Jo Wilder, Bell County
Kallie Housley, Corbin
Nadine Johnson, Bell County
Ella Karst, Harlan County
Brooke Nichelson, North Laurel

Best freshmen
Halle Collins, Knox Central
Abby Gilbert, Jackson County
Aymanni Wynn, Harlan
Kylie Noe, Harlan
Lauren McGeorge, Bell County

2022-2023 rankings

(Players are listed by their class for the 2023 season)
1. North Laurel (24-6) — A semifinal exit in this year’s regional was a surprise, but the Lady Jags will again be among the favorites with four starters returning, even though star guard Hailee Valentine graduates. Senior guard Emily Sizemore (19.3 points per game last year, 4.3 rebounds per game) returns, along with sophomore guards Brooke Nicholson (13.7, 3.4) and Bella Sizemore (7.8, 3.4) and 6-2 junior center Chloe McKnight (9.9, 8.3). Junior guard Jaelyn Black (5.3) and 5-9 junior forward Gracie McKnight (3.3, 4.0) are the favorites to round out the lineup.
2. Corbin (25-7) — Topping their run to the Sweet Sixteen won’t be easy but the Lady Hounds remain among the regional contenders with a trio of standout junior guards back in Kallie Housley (15.4, 4.8), Darcie Anderson (12.1, 3.3) and Bailey Stewart (7.3, 4.0), along with sophomore guard Raegan Walker (5.2, 4.8), who hit the game-winning shot in the finals. Junior guard Kylie Clem (12.0, 2.5), a transfer from South Laurel, should also fill a key role.
3. South Laurel (24-9) —With four starters back after an overtime loss to Corbin in the regional finals, you can be sure the Lady Cards will again be in the mix with a veteran squad returning led by senior guards Clara Collins (14.8, 4.1) and Emily Cox (8.5, 5.9) and 5-10 senior forward Gracie Turner (8.3, 4.8). Skeeter Mabe (7.6, 5.9), a 5-11 eighth-grader, is back at guard after an impressive first varsity season. Sophomore guard Jaylin Smith and eighth-grade guard Shelbie Mills (3.9) were key reserves in the run to the regional finals.
4. Bell County (24-8) —Led by two of the region’s top players in point guard Nadine Johnson (13.2, 5.4) and forward Gracie Jo Wilder (15.6, 9.2) should make another run after a surprising first-round exit in 2022. Senior guard Mataya Ausmus (11.9, 2.8) is also a returning starter for Bell. Sophomore guard Lauren McGeorge (5.9) and junior forward Haylee Mills (3.1, 2.6) will take on bigger roles.
5. Jackson County (22-10) — Doubling their win total in one season, the Lady Generals broke into the ranks of regional contenders with a run to the final four. Jackson returns its potent post combination in 6-4 senior center Kenady Ward (11.2, 7.9) and 6-2 sophomore forward Abby Gilbert (14.0, 10.2), along with 5-8 junior forward Kylee Shannon (10.9, 7.4). Junior guard Madison Curry (9.7, 4.2), who joined the team at midseason after a transfer from Clay County, will take on a bigger role. Junior forward Jenna Creech (3.7, 4.0) and senior guard Madison Marcum (2.2) will also be in contention for starting jobs.
6. Knox Central (20-9) — Despite another disappointing first-round exit in the regional tourney, the Lady Panthers will be in the chase again with one of the region’s most imposing frontlines featuring 5-11 sophomore Halle Collins (19.2, 9.3), 5-10 senior Reagan Jones (6.1, 4.2) and 6-1 senior Emily Mills (3.5, 3.4). Juniors Jaylynn Faine (2.7, 2.1) and Timberly Frederick (5.8) could take over in the backcourt with Presley Partin and Caylen Mills graduating.
7. Harlan County (20-12)—A 20-win season and a seventh-straight trip to the regional tournament exceeded most expectation and the Lady Bears should continue to improve with all five starters back, led by standout junior point guard Ella Karst (16.4, 3.3) and senior forward Jaylin Smith (10.8, 5.2). Taylor Lunsford (6.0, 7.8), a 5-11 senior, is back at center, with seniors Hailey Austin (5.5) and Taytum Griffin (5.7, 3.4) returning on the wings. Sophomore guard Kylie Jones (3.9), junior forward Paige Phillips (2.5, 2.9) and freshmen guards Cheyenne Rhymer and Madison Middleton should also play key roles.
8. Harlan (9-18) —The Lady Dragons hope to bounce back from a disappointing season with one of the region’s top young tandems in sophomores AymannI Wynn (14.8, 8.2) and Kylie Noe (18.0, 7.3). Junior point guard Emma Owens (9.3) also returns, along with senior forward Peighton Jones (2.6, 3.6) and sophomore wing Leah Davis (4.4, 3.5). Senior guard Scarlett Rowe (2.9) will also vie for a starting job.
9. Whitley County (14-11) —Junior guard Marissa Douglas (12.6, 5.0) and senior guard Martina Ahamada Xirgo (7.8, 2.7) are returning starters for the Lady Colonels, who were the third best team in a tough 50th District that featured the two regional finalists. Junior forward Kylee Brown (3.7, 2.2) is another contender for a starting job, along with junior Kaytlnn Collier (4.7, 2.0) and eighth-graders Aubree Clemens (3.3, 3.5) and Jonna Rice (3.0, 2.5)
10. Pineville (8-19) — The Lady Lions should be much improved in Elgie Green’s second season as coach with everyone returning, led by senior guard Abigale Jackson (12.7, 2.7) and 5-10 junior center Talyah McQueen (10.2, 7.4), a transfer from Bell County. Sophomores Ava Arnett (12.5, 6.1), Kamryn Biliter (2.8, 2.1) and Alyssa Howard (3.1, 4.2) and freshmen Rachel Howard (8.7, 7.2) and Malley Smith (4.7, 2.2) should also play key roles and give Pineville better depth than a year ago.

Best of the rest:
Clay County (11-15)— After 16 years and five regional titles, James Burchell stepped down as coach and the Lady Tigers are in rebuilding mode after suffering through a rare rebuilding season. Three senior starters return, including 5-9 center Brooke Dezarn (6.0, 2.9), 5-8 forward Mackenzie Sizemore (5.7, 4.7) and guard Jaylen Combs (8.0). Junior guard Sidney Jones (4.2, 2.9) will likely move into the starting lineup with freshmen Daisy Samples, Julia Collins, Lauryn Sizemore and Rachel Davidson also in the mix.

Middlesboro (10-18) — Three starters are gone for the Lady Jackets and coach Scott Overbay stepped down, putting Middlesboro in full rebuild mode In a tough district they haven’t escaped in 11 years. Sophomore guard Keevi Betts (12.2, 3.1) will over for Kailey Owens as the Lady Jackets’ first option on offense. Junior center Halaya Brown (3.8, 3.0) also returns, while junior forward Anna Myers and eighth-grade forward Trinity Derossett will take on bigger roles.

Williamsburg (8-20) — With 5-8 junior forward Allie Wilson (11.5, 6.1) returning to build around, the Lady Jackets should be stronger in 2023. Senior guard Zoie Brown (3.4, 2.6) also returns, along with sophomores Lorelei Coleman (3.4, 4.1) and Hannah Creekmore (4.9). Eighth-graders Braylee Evans (2.5) and Madisyn Hopkins (4.2, 3.9) are in the mix for playing time, along with senior forward Raegan White (4.9, 4.1).

Barbourville (10-15) — Repeating last years unexpected success won’t be easy with standout center Brianna Gallagher graduating. Junior guards Sarah Smith (10.4) and Aubrey Woolum (5.3, 3.2) return, along with sophomore guard Cheyenne Sizemore (3.5, 2.4). Sophomore guard Danni Jordan (4.1) and junior guard Lauren Smith (2.3) will likely round out the starting unit.

Lynn Camp (5-23) — A veteran squad is back for the Lady Cats with seniors Abby Mabe (8.9, 4.0), Alissa Crumpler (9.4, 8.2) and Isabella Blevins (2.4) and junior Jorja Carnes (10.0, 4.2) returning. Lindsey Cox (3.0, 3.5), a senior, will round out the lineup.

Red Bird (8-19) — With four starters graduating, including star guard Alyssa Gibson, the Lady Cards will have a hard time being as competitive as they were last season. Freshman forward Bryleigh King is a returning starter with 5-7 senior forward Madison Napier (2.4, 2.3) moving up from a top reserve role. Eighth-graders Paige Gibson and Lauren Osborne are the only other players returning.

Oneida Baptist (1-26) — Three starters graduate and the Lady Mountaineers will remain in a rebuilding situation for another season. Senior guard Jasmine Khajohnsupawatchara (2.4, 2.0) returns, along with sophomores Emily Wagers (3.1, 5.6), Savannah Craft (2.9, 2.4) and Charity Carpenter (3.9, 2.1).