The 2020-21 high school sports year was rife with challenges for Allen, Prosper, Little Elm and McKinney ISD, from navigating athletics during the COVID-19 pandemic to acclimating to a revamped district landscape as part of 5-6A.
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 5-6A’s seven schools while also looking ahead to what lies in store for 2021-22.
1. What lies ahead in the 5-6A tennis landscape?
Few teams benefited from a change of scenery in 5-6A like Allen tennis. The Eagles made good on their new stomping grounds by capturing the first district championship in program history after an emphatic run through conference play.
Allen outscored its league opponents 113-6 during the regular season and handled Prosper and Guyer by a combined margin of 22-0 in the district tournament.
The Eagles finished the season ranked No. 10 in Class 6A after advancing to the regional quarterfinals. The Eagles were tabbed No. 2 in Region I-6A while Guyer snuck in at No. 9 in the region, with Prosper and McKinney Boyd also qualifying for the playoffs.
Expect the district to run through Allen once again this fall. The Eagles have traditionally done well to replenish their veteran ranks with plenty of promising underclassmen, and names like Chelsie Son and Tejasvi Gutta, who earned key roles in head coach Justin Quest’s lineup as freshmen, should be improved next season. Allen has the majority of its starting boys lineup back as well, anchored by rising junior Tejas Ram.
2. Which programs were impacted the most, positive or negative, in the first year of this 5-6A alignment?
Breaking away from the Plano ISD trio took varying tolls on Allen, Prosper and McKinney ISD.
The pair of Eagles were already entrenched as the top two athletic programs in the former 9-6A alignment and a change of scenery did little to alter that. Allen and Prosper qualified for the playoffs in every standings-based sport and finished the year ranked in the top 25 of the UIL’s Lone Star Cup standings.
Little Elm and Braswell took some expected lumps in acclimating to 6A competition, combining for just two playoff appearances on the year, while McKinney had a tough time cracking the district’s upper echelon. The Lions placed top four in the standings of just one sport (boys basketball) in 2020-21 after doing so in three sports (football, boys basketball, girls basketball) the school year prior as part of 9-6A.
By contrast, McKinney Boyd benefited plenty from the move. The Broncos were hardly out of place from a competitiveness standpoint in 9-6A but had playoff appearances in seven standings-based sports in 2020-21 after combining for five during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years in 9-6A.
3. What was 5-6A’s biggest “what might have been” story of 2020-21?
There were a few district champions that left a bit of meat on the bone with their respective postseason runs — Prosper girls soccer, McKinney boys basketball, Boyd baseball and Allen football, for example — but the 2020-21 school year marked a first in the structure of the UIL baseball and softball playoffs.
Prior to the 2019-20 school year, the UIL passed a rule that allowed the district champions in both sports to choose the parameters of their first-round series — either a best-of-3 or one-game format. In previous years, opposing coaches would simply flip a coin to determine that sort of thing.
Nevertheless, that wound up weighing heavily on the way the bi-district series between McKinney Boyd and Flower Mound was contested. Despite the disparity in seeding between the two — Flower Mound coming off an unbeaten romp through 6-6A and the Lady Broncos tabbed the No. 4 seed in 5-6A — the series went the distance with the Lady Jaguars winning a battle of attrition over the three games played.
However, that meant working through a 2-0 loss to Boyd in Game 1 of the series.
Flower Mound, a team built on depth, opted for the best-of-3 format, while Boyd, anchored in the circle by star pitcher Kinsey Kackley, was tailor made for a one-game playoff. Credit some fortuitous timing with the UIL’s new postseason rule, as a coin flip could have potentially marked a momentous outcome for Boyd softball and spelled an early end to what wound up being a historic run to the state semifinals for Flower Mound.
4. How much of a factor did enrollment play in the 5-6A pecking order?
Enrollments will always be a polarizing subject in this district, simply due to Allen. The Eagles sport the largest enrollment in the state by a sizable margin at 6,959 — the last reported figure by the UIL in 2020. That number is 1,380 more than the next-closest school (Plano West at 5,579).
As Allen’s student body continues to swell, its athletics ensemble remained among the most consistent in the state. From a score of playoff appearances and district championships, plus a pair of state titles on the wrestling mats, Allen finished the school year ranked No. 7 in Class 6A in the final UIL Lone Star Cup standings.
Similar correlations were a bit spottier elsewhere in the district. Allen is one of just two schools in 5-6A with an enrollment of more than 3,000 students, according to last year’s UIL figures, with McKinney checking in at 3,049 students. That said, only 410 students separate the enrollments of McKinney, Boyd (2,941), Prosper (2,699) and Guyer (2,639).
Prosper, Guyer and Boyd were all playoff regulars nearly across the board — notable for Prosper, considering their student body took a bit of a hit with the opening of nearby Rock Hill High School — while 6A newcomers Braswell (2,345) and Little Elm (2,269) had the district’s two smallest enrollments.
The Bengals qualified for the playoffs in boys and girls basketball, while Little Elm, despite not cracking the top four in any of the standings-based sports, had individual student-athletes shine in cross country, wrestling and track.