As the book closes on 2021, it’s time to look back on the year that was in Allen-area athletics.
This year was clad in noteworthy moments across all sports for Allen and Lovejoy, including playoff success and championships won at the district and state levels.
The Allen American sports staff has compiled its top 10 sports stories of the year, concluding with the second half of that lineup.
5. Race to the top
It was a year to remember for the Lovejoy boys and girls cross country teams, who both finished on the podium for the first time as 5A programs.
The Lady Leopards made some history along the way, winning their first state championship since 2011 after an emphatic season that produced wins at the district, regional and state meets during the postseason. The Lovejoy boys, meanwhile, finished on the podium for the first time since 2018 after placing third overall in its race at state.
The girls set a torrid pace at the state meet, placing their first four runners within the race’s top 13 — junior Amy Morefield took fifth overall, followed by sophomore Kailey Littlefield in seventh, sophomore Sara Morefield in 12th and sophomore Peyton Benson in 13th.
Senior Tate Barr led the Leopards’ bronze-medal finish, racing to 16th overall.
Lovejoy’s strong fall came on the heels of a productive spring in track and field, highlighted by a state title win for Littlefield in the 800-meter run as just a freshman.
4. Eagles make gains in Morris’ first year
2021 ushered in a new era in Allen football, from the hiring of longtime college coach Chad Morris to near-wholesale turnover within a coaching staff that had enjoyed plenty of continuity and longevity across the program’s five state titles won on the gridiron.
The end result was an 11-3 season and the Eagles’ first trip to the regional finals since 2018. Getting to that point meant weathering some adversity — Allen suffered its first regular-season loss since 2012 in just Morris’ second game at the helm after Atascocita handled Allen, 41-20, on Sept. 3. The Eagles had another streak fall by the wayside after Prosper upset Allen 28-23 on Oct. 29 for the school’s first district loss since 2010.
Through it all, the Eagles still finished on top of a loaded 5-6A thanks to a 38-31 road win over Denton Guyer — a game that was the difference in the program netting a 16th consecutive district championship. Allen went on to pick up playoff wins over Hebron (59-30), Lake Highlands (49-24) and Euless Trinity (59-21) before falling to Southlake Carroll (47-21).
3. Thrice as nice
After posting an undefeated season in 2020, the Lovejoy volleyball team didn’t exactly run it back in 2021. The Lady Leopards retained plenty of key pieces from the year prior but graduated a talent-rich senior class and had to acclimate to a change in leadership after promoting Natalie Puckett to head coach following Ryan Mitchell’s departure to Prestonwood Christian.
Despite those changes, the end result remained the same as Lovejoy celebrated a third consecutive Class 5A state championship in November. Hoisting a state title for the ninth time in program history, the Lady Leopards posted a 42-6 record and won their final 17 matches of the season.
Senior Averi Carlson capped her momentous high school career with three consecutive state titles and four state tournament appearances, winning 5A state tournament MVP honors in her final match with Lovejoy. She had plenty of help along the way — seniors Rosemary Archer and Ava Camacho both received All-America selections from the American Volleyball Coaches Association.
2. The dynasty continues
Allen has made plenty of history on the wrestling mats over the past decade-plus, and the 2021 season produced a landmark occasion for the program.
In April, the Eagles completed a sweep of the Class 6A team state championships — the Allen girls finished atop the podium for the first time ever and the boys won their 12th consecutive state title. It was the first-ever sweep of the state team titles in UIL wrestling history.
It was only fitting that Allen would be the program to achieve that milestone, leaning on its tried-and-true depth to produce 12 student-athletes who finished in the top six of their weight class, eight who medaled top three and five who captured individual state titles.
Alum Braxton Brown became the fourth wrestler from Allen to win individual state titles in all four years of high school, polishing off his decorated run with a championship at 120 pounds. Sophomores Joseph Liescheski and Jasmine Robinson both won state titles as freshmen, while seniors Eliana Martinez and Kade Moore finished atop the podium in their weight classes as well.
1. Changing of the guard
For all the success that Allen athletics has enjoyed on the playing field over the years, plenty of that credit stems from a strong cast of leadership at the top. The past year has featured a wealth of change in that area.
The first domino fell on March 16 when former head football coach Terry Gambill, who led Allen to a state championship in 2017 and a 65-4 record over five seasons, announced his retirement.
Two days later, AISD announced that Steve Williams, the school district’s athletic director since 2000, was also retiring. Under Williams’ direction, Allen rose to national prominence as an athletics powerhouse, winning 28 state championships during his tenure.
AISD swung for the fences in searching for its next head football coach, announcing the hiring of Chad Morris on March 31. Morris had last coached at the high school level in 2009 with Lake Travis, plying his craft at the collegiate level with head coaching stops at SMU and Arkansas, plus coordinator gigs with Clemson, Tulsa and Auburn, in the years since.
The school district promoted from within to fill Williams’ position, naming Kim Garner as Allen’s next athletic director on April 16. Jeff McCullough took over Garner’s former post as assistant AD.
Garner hit the ground running to fill out Allen’s coaching staff, from hiring assistants for Morris to naming several new head coaches at the varsity level in other sports. Among the programs entering the 2021-22 school year under new leadership were Allen volleyball (Stephanie Poole), boys basketball (Clark Cipoletta) and baseball (Jason Wilson).