With the book having closed on 2020, it’s time to look back on the year that was in Allen-area athletics.
This year was like no other in recent memory, with high school sports around the country feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Amid the trying year, which included the cancellation of numerous UIL sports in the spring and the week-to-week uncertainties that plagued teams during the fall, programs from Allen and Lovejoy still managed to turn in their share of highlight moments.
The Allen American sports staff has compiled its top 10 sports stories of the year, concluding with the second half of that lineup.
5. Best season ever?
Lovejoy’s Ryan Mitchell has seen plenty of top-level volleyball during his decorated run as the Lady Leopards’ head coach. However, his 2020 team might be the best he has ever coached.
Lovejoy certainly made a compelling case this year, becoming the first Dallas-area team to go undefeated on the volleyball court. The Lady Leopards posted a 26-0 record and dropped just two sets all season en route to capturing their eighth UIL state championship.
Despite missing its entire preseason due to a COVID-19 shutdown, Lovejoy made up for lost time by cruising through its District 10-5A schedule without much resistance before posting sweeps in five of its six playoff matches. That included 3-0 wins over their final four opponents, capped by a 25-14, 25-17, 25-22 verdict against Fulshear in the 5A state title match.
Mitchell said his 2020 squad checked off the boxes, from airtight defense and ball control, to stout hitting and blocking, and a level of depth that no team in 5A could match.
4. Kyler comes home
Allen alum Kyler Murray left quite the legacy following his three-year run with the Eagles’ football team — helping guide the program to three UIL state championships and posting a perfect 42-0 record as the team’s starting quarterback.
Murray has gone to achieve big things at the college and professional levels, and on Oct. 19, he made his anticipated return to the Metroplex to quarterback the Arizona Cardinals against the Dallas Cowboys.
Although Murray’s return didn’t include the fanfare of a traditional season due to pandemic-related crowd capacity limitations, he remained perfect competing inside AT&T Stadium after helping the Cardinals to a 38-10 win over the Cowboys on Monday Night Football. Although Murray struggled throwing the ball, he still combined for 262 yards and three touchdowns.
Building off a 2019 campaign where he was named NFL offensive rookie of the year, Murray added his first-ever Pro Bowl selection this season and currently has Arizona in the hunt for its first playoff appearance since 2015.
3. Eagles make more history on football field
Allen’s football season came to an end last weekend in Arlington following a 49-45 loss to Euless Trinity, closing out the Eagles’ 2020 campaign at 10-1 overall.
Despite falling short in its pursuit of a sixth state title, Allen posted an undefeated regular season for the eighth consecutive year and extended its district championship streak to 15 years in a row. In going 8-0 across the regular season — Allen had two games cancelled due to COVID-19 — the Eagles extended their regular-season winning streak to 83 games, a mark that, according to TexasHighSchoolFootballHistory.com, is the longest in state history.
Getting there didn’t come easy, with Allen wading through a challenging district slate. As the Eagles exited the postseason on Saturday, two other teams from 5-6A — Prosper and Denton Guyer — played on to the regional finals.
Allen’s latest campaign was fueled by a high-octane offense that averaged 491.7 yards and 45.2 points per game, plus a bend-don’t-break defense that earned its keep in the team’s 20-16 second-round win over South Grand Prairie.
2. Another year, another Allen wrestling title
The Eagles extended their UIL state championship streak to 11 years in a row on the wrestling mats, continuing their dynastic run in resounding fashion in February with another lopsided effort at the Class 6A state meet.
Competing at the Berry Center in Cypress, Allen amassed 203.5 points — a total that outdid the combined scores of 6A’s second- and third-place team finishers, Arlington Martin (100) and Katy (94).
The Eagles flexed their depth with 13 wrestlers competing across the meet’s 14 weight classes, placing 10 in the top six and four standing atop the podium donning gold medals following their respective tournaments. Senior Braxton Brown (113 pounds), junior Mario Danzi (145) and alums Elise Brown Ton (160) and Zane Davis (195) all closed out their seasons with individual state titles.
Brown and Danzi lead a strong stable of returners for Allen’s 2021 campaign, although just when and how that will transpire remains up in the air with the UIL recently announcing a delay to the start of wrestling season.
1. The COVID season
The COVID-19 pandemic defined 2020, and that includes a trying year for many involved in high school sports.
With the virus forcing professional and collegiate leagues around the country to suspend or cancel play in mid-March, high schools had the seasons for myriad sports put on hold. The UIL handed down multiple suspensions of play before making the call on April 17 to cancel the remainder of the sports calendar for the 2019-20 school year.
In just over one month’s time, seasons were left without closure and countless high school seniors were unable to end their athletics careers on their own terms.
With countywide shutdowns and stay-at-home policies implemented, athletic programs had to get creative to conduct their offseasons — turning to video conferencing an at-home workouts to keep athletes engaged and active.
Teams began to creep towards normalcy in June when the UIL allowed limited summer workouts — prefacing a school year where coaches, athletes and fans adapted to various protocols as teams tried to play during the pandemic.
Adversity was inevitable, with countless teams around the state battling game cancellations, postponements and in-season shutdowns due to virus outbreaks within their programs.
The ride was indeed bumpy and riddled with uncertainty, but the UIL remained on track to conclude its fall sports schedule and, in November and December, crowned state champions in football, volleyball, cross country and tennis.