Soso Jamabo, Plano West football

Plano West senior-to-be Soso Jamabo, left, will aid the Wolves immensely in their bid for a playoff spot in District 6-6A.

In February, one of the biggest storylines to emerge from the UIL’s biennial realignment was the creation of District 6-6A featuring Plano ISD, Lewisville ISD, Allen and McKinney Boyd.

It didn’t take long for floodgates of hyperbole to open surrounding the new district.

That’s not to say folks are wrong. During the 2013-14 school year alone, five team UIL Class 5A State Championships were captured by schools that will occupy 6-6A next season and at least one 6-6A program has won a state title each of the past 10 years.

The nine schools all possess enrollments over 3,000 students, including the state’s four largest (Allen, Plano West, Plano Senior, Plano East).

In anticipation of the upcoming school year and the debut of 6-6A, Star Local Media will devote the next few months to previewing the new district, examining the ramifications on each sport and the factors that go into being a nine-team district.

With that said, here’s the third installment of 66 Questions for District 6-6A.

1. Is Plano ISD in danger of having all three programs miss the playoffs in football for the first time ever?

Matt Welch: This came eerily close to happening in 2011 before Plano East closed the regular season on a four-game winning streak to clinch the final playoff berth – although even then, falling short would have given Plano West that last spot.

The stakes are different now, since the majority of this district will not make the playoffs. As to how that affects Plano ISD over the next two years, some of that is relative to the competition.

Flower Mound and Flower Mound Marcus each won just two games last year, and Lewisville has logged six consecutive sub-.500 seasons. The Marauders have the highest upside of the trio next season, but will be adjusting to a new coach and system.

All it takes is one team to keep PISD’s streak alive, and both Plano Senior and Plano West have more continuity working in their favor, so a Plano-less postseason this fall would be a bit of a shocker.

It’s a bit tougher to project in 2016, although West and Plano East are already loading their respective chambers with some notable underclassmen.

2. Which basketball player in 6-6A wins a 1-on-1 tournament?

Ethan Grant: In addition to answering this question henceforth, I’ll be lobbying to 6-6A coaches to add this event to the festivities prior to all-district voting.

For starters, one would have to put Plano West’s quartet of seniors-to-be (D.J. Hogg, Tyler Davis, Mickey Mitchell, Soso Jamabo) in the mix. Allen’s top returning players, Olin Carter and Nick Rutherford, also possess what solid 1-on-1 skills.

From Lewisville ISD, Hebron’s Tyler Williams, Lewisville’s Anthony Davis and Marquis Williams, Flower Mound’s Jake Feickert and Marcus’ Michael Mayhew are all solid players who would show up at virtually any recreation center in the area and put on a good show.

But in a 1-on-1 tournament, give me the guy with length that can step out and knock down a jump shot. That leaves Hogg, Mitchell, Tyler Williams and Anthony Davis as my picks into the semifinals.

Mitchell is as smart a player as anyone in 6-6A, but his foot speed proves too much to overcome in a loss to Davis. Hogg overpowers Williams on defense and with an array of offensive moves to reach the finals.

So it’s Davis versus Hogg. In a back-and-forth battle, the reigning 10-5A MVP buries four 3-pointers and a few reverse layups en route to the 6-6A 1-on-1 title.

3. How will 6-6A affect the track and field landscape?

Justin Thomas: As will likely be the case in most sports, the combination of programs in 6-6A figures to produce one of the top track and field districts in the state.

This is particularly true on the girls side.

Last season, competing in Region II, Allen (second), McKinney Boyd (seventh) and East all finished in the top 10 as a team in the regional meet.

LISD programs achieved similar results in Region I, with Marcus (fifth), Flower Mound (seventh), Hebron (13th) and Lewisville (25th) all placing in the top half of all programs in the region.

The dominance is even more prominent individually, where multiple performers who advanced to the state meet return, including Flower Mound’s Safiya-Hana Belbina (fourth in the girls 3,200-meter run and seventh in the 1,600), Marcus’ Hannah Bradley (third in the girls 800), Boyd’s Aaliyah Miller (gold in the girls 800 and 1,600) and Allen’s Kiyana Dixon (eighth in the girls triple jump). Additionally, the Lady Eagles produced a pair of relay teams to state from which multiple athletes will return.

The districts didn’t fare as well on the boys side in 2013-14, but still made noise with East in ninth behind strong performances from Chris Ntreh (third in the boys 100 and sixth in the 200) and Flower Mound in 12th. 

Expect the district to return from the state meet in Austin with plenty more hardware in 2015.  

4. Who’s the preliminary favorite in 6-6A volleyball?

Phil Hausmann: After bowing out of the postseason early in the area round, Boyd should return hungry and just as talented this upcoming season – pending the Lady Broncos can find players capable of setting up their outside hitters.

But that’s really the only question mark on this team, as Boyd will be without its leading setters from last season, Parker Shepherd and Tori Turck. The firepower and defense remains for the Lady Broncos, though. 

Shepherd and Turck’s replacements will have the luxury of setting up senior Ashleigh Martin. She returns after leading the offense in kills last season and will be joined in the effort by sophomore Jordan Kiley.

Junior middle blocker Jill Duffin adds to the offensive threat for Boyd (270 kills), but her athleticism and height allowed her to create a wall for opposing offenses. Duffin led the team with 133.5 blocks and contributed 118 digs as well.

But to steal a phrase from former NBA head coach and analyst Mark Jackson, you talk about digs, you talk about junior Montana Watts. In her sophomore season, Watts racked up an astounding 1,000 digs.

Hebron, Allen, Plano and West could add a wrinkle in Boyd having a banner year in the district, but returning talent and the coaching of Kelly Arbabi have Boyd pegged as the early favorites.  

5. Despite its enrollment, McKinney Boyd was one of the most consistent programs in 10-5A. How capable are the Broncos of maintaining that consistency in 6-6A?

Phil Hausmann: Boyd’s football, volleyball and soccer programs will be tested early and often in the new district, but should be able to keep their heads above water in the new district. For other programs that qualified for the playoffs this past season, the influx of competition could create sinking in the standings, leaving teams on the outside looking in once the postseason begins.

Boyd baseball was third in 10-5A this past season, but with Class 5A state champs Flower Mound and regional finalist Marcus entering the picture, the Broncos will be hard pressed to achieve back-to-back years qualifying for the playoffs.

The same goes for Boyd’s softball program.

The Lady Broncos shared a piece of the district crown with West this past season, but Plano and East still presented a threat to Boyd. Now, with the new district, Boyd finds itself in an even more formidable situation with programs like Hebron, Flower Mound, Lewisville and Marcus – that each made it to at least the second round of the playoffs this past season.

With what it’s up against in the new district, no one could fault Boyd for taking a step back, but that may be the case this upcoming season.

6. There are teams that remain justified favorites in their respective sports, but what are some potential surprise teams in 6-6A?

Ethan Grant: Everyone knows about Allen football, West boys basketball, Flower Mound baseball and Lewisville softball. Predicting those teams to repeat as district champions is an easy assignment.

Finding potential challengers to said thrones are not. Here’s a look at a few sleeper teams to keep an eye on when the 2014-15 school year begins.

Allen girls basketball: The Lady Eagles barely survived in a two-point win over East in their first 10-5A contest of last season. That was a sign of things to come, as the Lady Panthers went winless in district action and Allen slumped to a fifth-place finish.

Alums Anna Horowitz (Colorado State) and Ericka May (Texas State) are gone, but head coach Deidra Rucker otherwise fielded a young team.

Pieces such as juniors-to-be Morgan Lewis and De’Anria Moore and sophomores-to-be Temi Alao and Haleigh Hill give the Lady Eagles a bright foundation that can only improve moving forward.

Plano East football: Coming off a 5-6 campaign in which Randy Jackson couldn’t guide East back to the playoffs, East alum Joey McCullough takes over the program with hopes of returning Panther pride.

He might just have the tools to do so sooner rather than later.

Especially on defense, where Division I talent abounds. Defensive end Landis Durham (Texas A&M commit) headlines a group that includes linebackers Austin Corbett and Anthony Hines, plus a deep secondary.

Growing pains on offense will be noticeable, but the defense could stem the tide enough to make East a tough challenge.

Flower Mound volleyball: The Lady Jaguars and Lady Broncos find themselves in similar situations.

Both finished third in their respective districts, lose a minimal amount of talent and will return a high number of underclassmen capable of making the leap.

For Flower Mound, middle blocker Lauren Cox, hitter Mikayla Grill, junior libero Kristyn Schott and setter Molly Werts all return. The Lady Jaguars reached the regional quarterfinals, where they fell to 5-5A mate Hebron, last season.

Though Allen, Hebron and Plano are all tough outs, don’t be surprised if Flower Mound challenges for a playoff spot.

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

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