The 2018-19 high school sports year was rife with new challenges for Allen, Plano ISD and McKinney ISD, which made the move to District 9-6A and welcomed Prosper and Jesuit along for the ride. The result was another year of quality athletics from several of the most prominent programs in the state.
Throughout the summer, Star Local Media will reflect on the year that was for 9-6A’s eight schools while also looking ahead to what lies in store for 2019-20.
With that said, here’s the ninth installment of Six Questions for District 9-6A.
1. Who is the preliminary favorite in 9-6A softball?
Bryan Murphy: Last season was Plano West’s time to shine behind District MVP Tatum Boyd bludgeoning the district competition on a routine basis.With Boyd headed off to Stanford, this could open up the door for an up-and-coming team like Prosper to take over.
The Lady Eagles took many by surprise a year ago by finishing in second place in just their first-ever run in 6A and did so with an exciting young roster that is hungrier for more following a second-round playoff exit to Belton.
Prosper said goodbye to just four seniors this offseason and returns a loaded roster that includes standouts Marina Karnes, Lexie Bell, Julia Bumford, Abbey Beasley and Gabby Coffey, just to name a few.
2. Who is the preliminary favorite in 9-6A baseball?
Matt Welch: Although they might not have been on the district championship radar at any point during last season, there’s no overlooking the strides McKinney Boyd took as a program during the postseason. The Broncos authored one of the more unique playoff runs in recent Metroplex history, winning eight consecutive elimination games — all against teams ranked in the state’s top 15 — before bowing out in the state semifinals.
With continuity and confidence on Boyd’s side, buoyed by returning two-thirds of its lineup and a pair of lights-out postseason arms in seniors Jack Hagan and Dawson Goheen, the Broncos could prove to be far more than a surprise playoff team next season. Couple that with the district’s first- and second-place teams, Allen and Prosper, graduating a wealth of seniors, and there’s a strong case for the Broncos entering the year as the preseason favorites out in 9-6A.
3. What are some early MVP candidates in 6-6A baseball and softball?
Kendrick E. Johnson: In 9-6A baseball, my two early candidates for MVP are Boyd star junior center fielder Tyler Collins and Allen’s talented junior pitcher Brett Tanksley.
Collins is coming off a monster year where he produced a .364 batting average while hitting four home runs and bringing in 26 RBIs on his way to being named 9-6A Offensive Player of The Year. Meanwhile, Tanksley won many big games for the Eagles in both district and the playoffs.
On the softball side of the diamond, Boyd junior pitcher Kinsey Kackley should be odds-on favorite to be named MVP as she has been named Newcomer of The Year and Pitcher of The Year in the first two years of her splendid career. If Kackley were to struggle, expect either of Prosper’s dynamic duo of Sydney Lewis and Gabby Coffey could emerge as the 9-6A MVP.
4. Which 9-6A sport will feature the most tightly contested race – district title or playoff spots, in general – in 2019-20?
Taylor Raglin: The fun of 9-6A comes from the fact that nearly every standings-based sport seems to have a race like this – the league has so much parity across the board that many of the conference’s teams often find themselves in contention for postseason berths deep into their regular seasons.
However, this could be especially true for the action on the gridiron.
Outside of perennial power Allen, the postseason picture is as murky as it’s been in recent memory. Last season’s other three postseason teams – Plano East, Prosper and McKinney – are in flux heading into 2019, with the Lions needing to find out whether or not their first-year success under head coach Marcus Shavers was the real deal, the Panthers needing to replace essentially their entire offense and the Eagles graduating a bevy of key pieces as they continue to adapt to 6A play.
There’s also intrigue among the bottom of last season’s table – 0-26 Plano West and bubble team McKinney Boyd each have a new coach, Jesuit will return one of the league’s premier athletes in running back EJ Smith, and Plano Senior has one of the few backfields with experience returning at both running back and quarterback in junior signal-caller Oliver Towns and junior running back Tylan Hines.
In short, while the Eagles will still reside at the top of the league until further notice and the Wolves will likely need more time to become relevant once again, the rest of the conference’s combatants are in for what appears to be an all-out brawl for postseason berths.
5. Which district gets the better of bi-district competition in 2019-20: 9-6A or 10-6A?
Bryan Murphy: District 10-6A displays a plethora of talent across the board in sports like softball with Wylie being a state powerhouse, South Garland boys basketball always being a force and Sachse almost locked in to be in the postseason in every sport.
But from top to bottom, 10-6A just doesn’t quite have the brilliance and dominance that 9-6A possesses with state juggernauts in every sport.
In nearly every sport there’s a team that finished last in the standings out of 9-6A that could have very well made the playoffs in almost any other district.
Outside of Sachse poised to knock off many 9-6A squads next season as a presumed first seed in most sports, I don’t see the Garland ISD programs and Wylie having much success in bi-district play.
6. What are some potential surprise teams in 9-6A for 2019-20?
Matt Welch: Assuming the Allen volleyball team enjoys a cleaner bill of health this fall, there’s plenty to room for them to climb the 9-6A ladder and get back to swinging with the district elite. With nearly all their senior leadership banged up last season, the Lady Eagles’ underclassmen were thrown into the fire of competing in perhaps the state’s toughest volleyball district, and no doubt took some lumps with an 0-12 district record, but should come out better for it with the majority of head coach Kelley Gregoriew’s end-of-season rotation returning.
Bryan Murphy: Don’t sleep on McKinney girls basketball next season, despite the Lionettes missing the playoffs a year ago.McKinney was forced to deal with three McDonald’s All-Americans on a routine basis, as well as facing other standout players like Jordyn Merritt of Plano.Merritt returns to the mix, but the Lionettes will no longer have to deal with the three national superstars while they also bring back a strong cast of players.Erin Fry and Taylor Jackson spearhead a steady senior group and very well could sneak McKinney into the playoff picture in 2020.
Kendrick E. Johnson: Two teams that I expect to make some noise and surprise some people are the McKinney girls basketball team and the Plano boys soccer team.Both teams will be motivated to do big things after coming close but not making the postseason in their respective sports. Each team returns a talented core, and if they are able to stay healthy and gather continuity early, they will be a problem for other teams in the district.
Taylor Raglin: In the wake of alum Tavy Diggs’ departure, one might assume the Plano East girls basketball team would take a step back, but the Lady Panthers may be as equipped as any program in the league to rebound from the graduation of a star. Sophomores Kayla Cooper, Tiana Amos and Ada Anamekwe join junior Kendall Parker, among others, in forming a young and talented core that could propel the Lady Panthers to greater-than-expected heights in be a parity-filled 9-6A.