Allen junior Alicia Mills, right, and the Lady Eagles’ girls basketball team were one of five programs to emerge from Region II-6A as a state tournament qualifier.

With the UIL’s announcement of the 2018-20 realignment last year, schools from Plano ISD, McKinney ISD and Allen were dealt an unexpected curveball – not only with the additions to Prosper and Jesuit to its district, but a move back to Region II.

While all eyes that morning in February 2018 were centered on what teams would be grouped in a which districts, a simple shift from one region to another can drastically alter a program’s fortunes come playoff time.

And after four years of traipsing the Region I-6A minefield, it didn’t take long for local programs to reap the benefits of being shifted back to Region II.

During the 2018-19 school year, District 9-6A sent five teams to the state semifinal round of the playoffs: Plano West volleyball, Allen football, Allen girls basketball, Allen girls soccer and McKinney Boyd baseball – the most of any district in Region II.

Along the way, 15 teams went at least three rounds deep in the playoffs, also the highest mark within the region.

Compared to years past, it’s a breath of fresh air for Collin County’s 6A schools. In 2016-17 and 2017-18, simply making the playoffs meant immediately staring down an opponent from the Lewisville ISD, Euless Trinity, LD Bell, Trophy Club Byron Nelson or Southlake Carroll – matchups that, while sure to test a team early, often meant drawing a first-round foe that was probably more befitting of a third- or fourth-round designation.

The result, which cut both ways, meant some of the area’s better programs met an early demise.

In 2018-19, PISD, MISD and Allen traded that in for a bi-district gamut of matchups with Garland ISD and Wylie – games that went the way of 9-6A more often than not with a 24-8 record compiled in the first round of the playoffs. For comparison’s sake, 18 teams from the previous Plano-Allen-McKinney district (6-6A) went one-and-done in 2017-18.

Between the lines, 9-6A swept 10-6A in volleyball and baseball and managed a 2-2 split with their neighboring school district in only football and boys soccer.

And although a change in scenery helped buoy the 9-6A schools’ odds of making it out of the bi-district round, they didn’t let that early momentum go to waste. Overall, 9-6A sported a plus-.500 record in each of the first five rounds of the playoffs – going 24-8 in the first round (75%), 15-9 in the second round (62.5%), 8-7 in the third round (53.3%), 7-1 in the fourth round (87.5%) and 4-3 in the fifth round (57.1%).

That fifth-round figure is deceptive as well, with two of those three losses coming in head-to-head matchups between 9-6A programs (Plano West vs. Prosper volleyball, Allen vs. Prosper girls basketball) in the regional finals. The other setback came courtesy of Duncanville, which eliminated Allen in state semifinal round of the football playoffs.

The only other district that rivaled 9-6A’s success within Region II was 15-6A – a southern juggernaut that features Conroe ISD and Klein ISD. That district boasted three regional champs (Klein Forest boys basketball, College Park boys soccer and Klein Collins softball) and qualified 14 teams at least three rounds deep in the playoffs.

More often than not, literally, the road to state meant going through 9-6A.

What happened upon qualifying for state, however, was a different story. Despite sending five teams to the state semifinals, that was as far as any program across the eight standings-based sports advanced out of 9-6A, which sported an 0-4 record in the sixth round of the playoffs, as well as Allen’s aforementioned semifinal loss in football.

That was where 15-6A gained an upper hand, sending Forest and Collins to the state championship game in their respective sports.

However, it was 11-6A that came away with the region’s only state championship across the eight standings-based sports in 2018-19, thanks to Longview’s efforts on the gridiron.

It raises the question of whether that Region II journey ultimately made these teams more battle-tested or battle-weary.

All 67 schools in Region II-6A have another school year to better clarify that, and if the early returns are any indication, 9-6A shouldn’t lack in opportunities in 2019-20 and potentially beyond.

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

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