Lady Cats working for return to top of 52nd District

Published 11:41 am Tuesday, August 15, 2023


Contributing Writer

A streak of three straight 52nd District championships for the Bell County Lady Cats came to a surprising end last October in a grueling five-set loss to Harlan County in the district finals at Middlesboro High School.

Email newsletter signup

The Lady Cats will try to begin another streak this year despite losing eight of 13 players from last season’s 24-10 squad that overcame the loss to Harlan County to knock off North Laurel in the 13th Region Tournament before falling to Whitley County in the semifinals. It was the fourth straight winning season for the Lady Cats after 12 consecutive losing campaigns stretching back to 2007.

“The girls have worked really hard this summer,” said coach Shawn Fultz. “We have set some big goals, getting the district back being one of them. I feel like we can achieve those goals if we continue to work hard and grow as a team.”

While the Lady Cats lost several top players, including Jordan Muncy and Olivia Jackson, both with over 100 sets played and the top two in digs, Bell will rebuild around the district’s most imposing frontline featuring 6-3 sophomore Kairi Lamb and 6-1 senior Gracie Wilder.

Wilder had a whopping 540 kills last year, while Lamb was second with 182. Wilder also had 122 service aces and 66 blocks. Lamb added 58 aces and 50 blocks.

“Gracie Jo and Kairi definitely give us a big front. They both are big impact players that can create some havoc for our opponents,” Fultz said. “I’m excited to see how well they do this year.”

Lily Orick and Kamryn Burnett, both seniors who saw action last season, could move into the lineup. Orick was second on the team in assists with 246 and added 102 aces and 20 kills. Burnett had 54 digs, 12 aces and 16 kills. Abbi Middleton, a junior who had 79 digs and 10 assists, also returns.

Others in the mix for starting spots are Savannah Phipps, Michaelyn Dye, Nevaeh Allen, Emily Rose, Emma Winkler and Lexi Brown.

“A key for us revolves around our younger girls stepping up and our seniors leading the way. We have a mixture of older girls as well as girls that have never played varsity before. These younger girls have been hungry all summer to grow and be contributors to our team,” Fultz said. “To quote John Wooden ‘Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.’ That’s what we are working for.”


Bell County schedule

Aug. 14 — Jellico, Tenn.

Aug. 15 — Claiborne, Tenn.

Aug. 17 — South Laurel

Aug. 18 — at McCreary Central Inv.

Aug. 21 — Clay County

Aug. 22 — at Harlan

Aug. 24 — at Middlesboro

Aug. 26 — vs Clay County (2A tournament)

Aug. 28 — at Corbin

Aug. 29 — Harlan County

Aug. 31 — Barbourville

Sept. 5 — Knox Central

Sept. 8 — at Rocky Top Classic

Sept. 11 — at Claiborne, Tenn.

Sept. 12 — Harlan

Sept. 18 — at Lynn Camp

Sept. 19 — at Harlan County

Sept. 21 — Clay County

Sept. 25 — Jellico, Tenn.

Sept. 26 — at Knox Central

Sept. 28 — Middlesboro

Sept. 30 — Bobcat Classic

Oct. 10 — at Barbourville

Oct. 12 — Lynn Camp

From left, front row: Abbi Middleton, Lexi Brown, Riley Allen, Savannah Phipps, Emily Rose and Kamryn Burnett; back row: Michaelyn Dye, Nevaeh Allen, Gracie Jo Wilder, coach Shawn Fultz, Kairi Lamb, Emma Winkler and Lily Orick.