Class 3A champs seeking new identity

By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal

BELMONT – Katelyn Nunley is living a dream playing basketball for the Belmont Lady Cardinals.
The team’s coach, Chris Higginbottom, hopes she never wakes up.
The 5-foot-9 sophomore forward scored 20 points Thursday night to lead the defending Class 3A state champions to a 57-32 victory against Hernando in the Belmont Classic.
“I’m very proud of the way she played tonight,” Higginbottom said. “She stepped it up offensively and defensively. This was one of her better games.”
Nunley was the team’s sixth man as a freshman last season and drew the assignment of guarding Ripley’s talented post player Becca Ruckes in the state title game.
“She had to guard Ruckes, and Ruckes had to guard her,” Higginbottom said. “She did a good job.”
Against Hernando, Nunley scored 12 of her points in the second half, with four coming off backdoor cuts out of a four-corners set.
“It’s what we do,” she said, then smiled. “We’ve had a good start to the season. With us being young, we’ve had to come together and execute.”
Belmont (5-2) lost four starters from its gold ball-winning team. Sophomore point guard Elisiah Jones, who scored 12 points against Hernando, is the lone returning starter.
Higginbottom started three sophomores, including Kerisa Thrasher, one freshman, Chloe Watson, and a junior, Natasha Jones, against Hernando. Natasha Jones, who is Elisiah’s sister, added 11 points.
The starting lineup against Hernando was Higginbottom’s third different one this season.
“When you’re inexperienced you get inconsistency,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of girls who haven’t played.”
“We’re working to find our identity. Our goal is to improve each game and each find our role.”
The Lady Cardinals have won with stingy defense and high-percentage shooting in the early stages of the season. In the second half against Hernando, all 13 of Belmont’s field goal came off layups.
Belmont led 26-21 at halftime, then broke the game open with a defensive-fueled 20-5 third quarter.
“I told them at halftime we needed to tighten up on defense,” Higginbottom said. “We did a lot better and we moved ball well in transition.”
gene.phelps@journalinc.com