BOWLING GREEN —
The scene has played out countless times in gyms across the area and well
As Kaylyn Gambill catches a pass, sets and releases her high-arching shot, the opposing coach winces and sometimes even lets out a groan.
Sure enough, the ball drops — seemingly from the sky — and ripples through the net, good for another three points.
What the Ashland senior lacks in size, strength and athleticism, she makes up for with a well-honed skill.
Gambill takes the court today in the opening round of the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Girls’ Sweet Sixteen as one of the most prolific 3-point shooters in state history. The Kittens play 10th Region champion Montgomery County in a 2:30 p.m. (EST) game at Western Kentucky University.
With her five splashdowns in the 16th Region Tournament last week, Gambill’s 3-ball career total stands at 334. That’s good for sixth place on Kentucky’s all-time list, according to the KHSAA record book.
“Amazing,” Ashland assistant coach Phil Wittich said of the slightly-built 5-foot-6 guard. “The basketball weighs more than she does.”
Sometimes Gambill and Wittich play H-O-R-S-E before practice.
“Kaylyn will be 3 or 4 feet behind the 3-point line,” he said. “I think she’s more comfortable there than just behind it. She just flicks her wrist. The only way I can beat her is to shoot bank shots from the wing. That’s old school.”
Said Gambill: “Coach Wittich always says he can’t understand how I get 3s up there, I’m so little. God gave me the ability to shoot, I guess.”
And she developed it.
Gambill, who shares captain duties with longtime friend Sydney Cullop, is hitting just under 40 percent from long range this season (70 for 178) while averaging 10.5 points in the Kittens’ balanced attack. Gambill credited teammates for her shot-making success.
“I appreciate all they do for setting picks and helping get me open,” she said. “We work together well as a team.”
The University of Rio Grande signee said she’s currently at 109 pounds after an allergy-related illness early in the season dropped her weight from 115. Gambill sat out a mid-December game against Campbell County, a rarity for the dependable player.
“She almost never misses a game or practice,” Ashland head coach Bill Bradley said. “Kaylyn looks frail, but plays with so much toughness and stamina.”
That kind of durability, along with a tremendous work ethic, has helped Gambill rack up 1,789 career points to rank third on Ashland’s career scoring list.
The last couple of seasons, Gambill expanded her offensive game with occasional ball fakes that enabled her to drive past fast-closing defenders.
“She started going to the hole last year,” Bradley said. “We told her she had to have more than one dimension to her game. Kaylyn will take some knocks going to the basket, but gets right back up.”
Gambill grew up playing Y-ball and “found a love” for the game. Her father, Richard, helped start an elementary team at Rose Hill Christian and has also coached her several years on the AAU level with the River Cities Swish. Six of Ashland’s seven seniors played on the team last summer.
The eight-year high school playing careers of Gambill and Cullop offer symmetry — two State Tournament appearances as young girls at Rose Hill and two more at the end helping the Kittens to their first back-to-back region titles since 1986-87.
As a junior, Gambill led the Kittens past Boyd County in the regional finals with 23 points, including five 3-pointers in seven attempts. Ashland repeated last week, with Gambill going 3-for-7 from long range and scoring 16 points against the Lady Lions.
Cullop averages 8.4 points this season and is one of the team’s toughest defenders and rebounders.
“She’s like the glue for this team,” Gambill said. “Coach Bradley will say get this done, or get that done. Sydney will do it.”
Bradley gives both team captains high marks for leading by example. The Kittens (25-6) have reached the 25-win mark for the third consecutive year.
Gambill, named 16th Region Player of the Year by the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches, also carries a high grade-point average.
“Kaylyn’s a great kid,” Wittich said. “All she wants to do is help the team. It’s not about stats to her.”
He said that holds true for the whole team.
“There’s no drama,” Wittich said. “They have handled injuries and sickness well. It’s such a close-knit group. They really worked hard for it.”
Ashland made a first-round exit at last year’s State Tournament, but Gambill doesn’t expect nerves to be a factor this time at Diddle Arena.
“We will be more comfortable walking in and playing, instead of looking up around at the scenery,” Gambill said. “When we left there last year, the feeling was we were definitely going to come back and do better.”
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.