Plano East vs. Southlake Carroll

Plano East junior Kayla Cooper, right, had a game-high 21 points and tallied five steals in Saturday’s 56-42 win over Southlake Carroll.

One of the more entertaining aspects of covering high school sports in the Metroplex are the interactions – both personal and as a spectator – with athletes.

During my time as a reporter, I have had the opportunity to profile and follow the career paths of some noteworthy athletes in Plano ISD and surrounding areas, and it’s time to look at a handful of students who impressed this past season and could be in line for even bigger roles in 2021-22.

Today, let’s look at five of the top returning athletes from Plano East who will impact their teams in various ways next season.  

Ismail Mahdi

Football

The Panthers had a tough go during their 2020 season but unearthed a gem at running back in Mahdi. 

Reminiscent of his predecessor in the backfield, alum Trey Jones-Scott, Mahi led East in both rushing (1,054 yards) and receiving (553 yards) during his junior season. Mahdi found the end zone 15 times and had a knack for the big play, averaging nearly 7 yards per carry.

Mahdi was named to the 6-6A all-district first team and should get plenty of opportunities to replicate his production as a senior — head coach Joey McCullough said he plans to use the all-purpose athlete in a variety of different roles within East’s offense.

Kayla Cooper

Girls Basketball

One of five returning starters for an East team looking to build off its first trip to the regional finals since 1993, Cooper has been entrenched for the Lady Panthers’ point guard for practically her entire tenure on varsity.

As a junior, she was named to the 6-6A all-district first team after averaging 8.3 points per game and leading the team in assists per game at  3.8. In addition, Cooper logged 3.0 rebounds and finished in second on the Lady Panthers in deflections (2.5), steals (3.0) and plus-minus (11.7).

The Oklahoma commit was at her best during East’s momentous postseason, including in the team’s regional semifinal win over Southlake Carroll. Cooper knocked down five 3-pointers and scored a team-high 21 points in the Lady Panthers’ 56-42 victory.

Gio Linscheer

Swimming

Linscheer was right back to competing against the best swimmers last season as he qualified for the 6A state meet for the second consecutive season. 

Linscheer was plenty busy during his stay in San Antonio, racing in the 500-yard freestyle and the 200 individual medley. The Florida commit finished sixth in the 500 free and 10th in the 200 IM, helping the Panthers to a 13th-place team finish.

His season-best times in both races were worthy of NISCA All-American status — he clocked in the nation’s 48th fastest mark among high schoolers in the 200 IM at 1:49.97 and was 66th overall in the 500 free with a 4:31.23.

Tiriah Kelley

Track and Field

The Lady Panthers’ star sprinter staked her claim as one of the fastest women in the state last season. Kelley qualified for the 6A state track and field meet in three events — the 100-meter dash, the 200 and the 4x100 relay — and placed fourth overall in two races.

Kelley ran a personal-record time of 23.62 in the 200 en route to a fourth-place finish and was the anchor leg on the Lady Panthers’ fourth-place sprint relay, which clocked a time of 46.05. Kelley added a PR at state in the 100 as well, taking seventh in the event.

Kelley prefaced her run to state with championships at the district, area and regional levels in all three races.

Caleb Bergman

Baseball

Bergman has been making plays on the diamond for the Panthers since he was a freshman — earning all-state honors during his inaugural year of high school baseball. He has kept his foot on the gas ever since, compiling an all-district first-team effort during his junior season.

Manning the East outfield and batting atop the lineup, Bergman’s district campaign included a .250 batting average, four extra-base hits, seven runs and four RBIs.

Bergman recently announced a verbal commitment to Baylor and is one of three returning starters for the Panthers next season.

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

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