Stephens steps down as Bells softball coach; Johnson elevated to lead program
After overseeing the most successful stretch in the history of the high school’s athletic department, Bells head softball coach Kristina Stephens has stepped down, and away from coaching, after a seven-year run that included back-to-back state championships.
Stephens is leaving the athletic side of education to become a counselor at Melissa High School but is also leaving the program in good and familiar hands as assistant coach Lisa Johnson, who has been a part of Stephens' entire tenure, has been elevated to lead the Lady Panthers.
During the past seven seasons Bells went 157-44 — including a 131-23 record the last five years — with two championships, a current streak of four district titles and reaching at least the region quarterfinals five times.
The highlights of their time together at Bells were those consecutive Class 2A titles in 2017 and 2018.
The Lady Panthers dominated in that particular stretch and would have been the favorite to continue the run if not for the fickle finger of realignment, which sent Bells up to Class 3A for the 2019 season and made a three-peat harder to achieve.
It almost didn’t make a difference as the Lady Panthers got off to 35-1 start before being swept by eventual state champion Emory Rains, which was a 4A semifinalist before dropping down that year, in the Class 3A Region II final. It was the first time in 17 elimination games where Bells came out on the losing side.
Last year the two teams were expecting to be on a collision course again when the season was halted in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lady Panthers had a 15-2 record when everything was cancelled.
This spring Bells went 21-7 and won a fourth straight district title by finishing atop 11-3A but was swept in the first round in a pair of one-run losses by Prairiland.
Stephens was the head coach at Cooper from 2010-14 before taking over at Bells. Her first team ended the program’s five-year playoff drought and earned the first postseason victories by reaching the region quarterfinals to finish at 11-8.
In 2016, the program made the region semifinals for the first time, finishing with a 15-13 mark, and then was off to much greater heights.
But neither of the championship victories would come easy as seventh-inning comebacks were needed in each case.
Bells won it all in 2017 despite trailing 5-2 going into its final at-bat, coming up with five runs and then holding on for a 7-6 victory over two-time defending champ Shiner and ending with a 32-3 record.
When the Lady Panthers repeated, Normangee scored a run in the bottom of the sixth for a 5-4 advantage before Bells put up four runs in the seventh for the 9-5 victory and finished 28-8 with its back-to-back crowns.
Stephens was named the Class 2A Coach of the Year by the Texas Sports Writers Association for both 2017 and 2018 and in the latter year was also selected as the National Federation of State High School Association Texas State Softball Coach of the Year.
In addition to her assistant role with softball, Johnson has been the head volleyball coach since 2015, leading that sport to five playoff appearances in six seasons, including the program's only two region quarterfinal berths in 2016 and 2017.
She was a standout player for Sherman from 2005-08 and was twice named the District Pitcher of the Year, as a freshman and junior, to go with Offensive Player of the Year honors as a sophomore and first-team all-district accolades as a senior.
Johnson moved on to the University of North Texas and was a four-year starter with time at every spot around the infield. She still holds the program's single-season and career record for walks and on the UNT career lists is sixth in runs and home runs, eighth in doubles and total bases, ninth in RBI and 10th in hits.