Allen senior Tyler Jackson returns as a key piece from the Lady Eagles’ state semifinalist squad.

Friday marks the opening night in District 9-6A girls basketball, as seven teams take aim at four playoff spots in what figures to be one of the Metroplex’s most competitive sprints on the hardwood.

Last season, 9-6A produced both Region II-6A finalists, with Allen parlaying a district title into a state semifinal appearance. Both the Lady Eagles, along with Prosper and Plano West, graduated McDonald’s All-Americans — laying the groundwork for a fairly different look to 9-6A.

Already the landscape has been rocked with Plano Senior senior Jordyn Merritt, a likely McDonald’s All-American candidate in her own right, suffering a season-ending knee injury and leaving the Lady Wildcats without their top player, while teams like Plano East and McKinney look to be much improved in 2019-20.

The conference’s seven squads have plenty of time to sort things out on the hard court, but beforehand, Star Local Media collaborated to project the district’s final standings when all is said and done.

1. Allen

Matt Welch: The Lady Eagles were tasked with replacing one of the state’s top scorers in All-American Nyah Green, and that process has meant some initial hurdles in 2019. Allen has been game against powerhouses like DeSoto and Duncanville, but is still in search of a marquee victory over one of the area’s juggernauts with six losses to state-ranked teams.

There’s still enough depth and experience from last year’s squad to make a run in 9-6A, though. Senior Tyler Jackson has shined early into the offseason along with junior Zoe Jackson, who transferred from McKinney Boyd.

There’s a ways to go for this team to find its 2018-19 form, but the Lady Eagles should still be a playoff team.

2. Plano Senior

Matt Welch: The Lady Wildcats were rocked by the Merritt’s preseason injury, depriving the team of not only a four-year varsity anchor and captain, but their leading scorer and defensive centerpiece.

And yet, Plano still might have the ammunition to stay afloat in 9-6A. In Merritt’s absence, the team has already scored a double-digit win over state-ranked Cedar Hill and put up a spirited fight against national No. 1 DeSoto in the championship game of the Cowtown Classic in a 56-51 loss.

Senior Maggie Robbins and junior Mikayla Eddins bring plenty of experience to the table, while Plano West transfer and junior Amaya Brannon has stepped up in Merritt’s absence as well. 

3. Prosper

Bryan Murphy:For the first time in five years, this program won’t feature one of the top players in the entire country with Jordyn Oliver off playing her freshman season at Baylor.

Nonetheless, the Lady Eagles are still flying high this season under head coach Trey Rachel and a collection of top-notch talent on the roster.

This year’s edition is led by North Texas commit Maddie Cleary, who most recently led Prosper to a 57-56 victory over The Colony with a team-high 24 points in the process.

Along with Cleary, expect big things from others like Chandler Browning and Peyton Mosley, as this team should be in the running for a spot in the postseason.

4. McKinney

Kendrick E. Johnson: The Lionettes enter district play focused on returning to the playoffs after narrowly missing postseason action last season.

If McKinney wants to make its goals a reality, playing tough defense on a consistent basis is a must, as 10 of the Lionettes’ 13 opponents have scored 51 points or less in non-district action. Despite having senior all-district guard Erin Fry as its top scorer, McKinney has used a balance and effective committee approach when it comes to putting the ball in the basket.

This approach, along with a roster that has more experience this season, should pave the way for McKinney to return to the playoffs.

5. Plano East

Matt Welch: For all the Lady Panthers’ youth — their 13-player roster includes six sophomores and two freshmen — first-year head coach Jessica Linson hasn’t been shy about testing East against the state’s best.

The Lady Panthers have played a challenging non-district schedule but have held up well against that level of competition more often than not. 

Sophomores Kayla Cooper, Donavia Hall, Ada Anamekwe, Tiana Amos and freshmen Idara Udo and Taylor Haggan are among the team’s early-season standouts, and that level of depth should pay dividends in district play

6. Plano West

Matt Welch: Much like Allen and Prosper, the Lady Wolves are recalibrating their identity with All-American Jaden Owens now in college, and the early returns have seen freshman Monica Marsh and senior Maya Kendall step into lead roles for the team. 

Marsh and Kendall double as the team leaders in both scoring and rebounding, while junior Katy Wade has been a willing playmaker and a defensive spark plug.

Entering the week at just 4-10 overall, West is still looking to translate that promise into the win column.

7. McKinney Boyd

Kendrick E. Johnson: After finishing last season with their best record in recent memory and a game away from making the playoffs for only the third time in program history, Boyd enters district in rebuild mode.

The Lady Broncos are under new leadership with former Coppell head coach Kristen Davis at the helm and still haven’t gotten enough consistent production to replace Zoe Jackson, who transferred to Allen after leading Boyd in scoring, rebounding and assists the last two seasons. 

Look for Boyd to improve throughout district play and upset a team or two but not factor into postseason play.

For continued news and coverage on the local sports scene, follow Matt Welch on Twitter.

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