The end of one chapter gives way to the start of another, and such is the case as teams around the state begin preparations for the 2020-21 school year.
For many, that’ll mean making the move to a new district, and schools like Allen, Prosper, Little Elm, McKinney Boyd and McKinney are no different. Allen and the McKinney ISD duo broke away from their longtime rivals in Plano ISD and will be joined by Prosper, Denton Guyer, Denton Braswell and Little Elm in a revamped District 5-6A.
Throughout the summer, Star Local Media will reflect on the year that was for 5-6A’s seven schools while also looking ahead to the district’s storylines and subplots for the 2020-21 school year.
1. Who are the winners and losers of the new 5-6A alignment?
Kendrick E. Johnson: The winners of the new District 5-6A alignment, in my opinion, are McKinney Boyd and Denton Guyer.
On the girls’ side of the equation, the Lady Broncos match up with Guyer and Braswell better than they did with Plano ISD across the board, and with young talented classes coming down the pipeline, this should help Boyd athletics round back into form.
Despite being in a tougher district across the board, Guyer gets the benefit of knowing what to expect as they competed against Allen and the McKinney schools from 2016 through 2018 and were able to thrive and hold their own. This time shouldn’t be any different.
The biggest loser of this alignment is easily Little Elm and Denton Braswell, as they both moved up from 5A into one of the deepest districts in the state and will be sure to experience some growing pains.
Let’s get real: Who wants to sub out Justin Northwest, Denton Ryan and Lake Dallas for Allen, McKinney and Prosper?
2. What lies ahead in 5-6A cross country in 2020?
Matt Welch: It all starts at the top, literally, where Prosper is led by reigning Class 6A state champion Aubrey O’Connell. She became the first sophomore to win the girls’ state title in the UIL’s largest classification since 2013 and did so by finishing more than six seconds ahead of second place with a 17:05.95.
O’Connell’s first-place run paced a third-place team finish for a Lady Eagles’ squad that lost just one runner from its state lineup to graduation.
The Allen girls managed to take 12th overall at state but graduate their top runner in Emilie Morgan. Still, there’s an encouraging foundation in place with names like juniors Ashley Gray and Melody Lewis — both of whom competed at state.
Prosper mustered some heroics on the boys side by winning last season’s 9-6A title by just one point, and could have as many as four of its top six finishers from that meet back for 2020.
However, the biggest challenge for these teams likely spans beyond 5-6A, with the likes of Allen, Prosper and McKinney ISD all relocated back into Region I. For those that manage to advance past the district round, making noise at regionals is going to be a chore with programs from Lewisville ISD, Coppell and Southlake Carroll now in the mix.
3. Which 5-6A sport is impacted most by the addition of Denton Guyer and Denton Braswell?
Kendrick E. Johnson: Soccer. By losing Plano Senior, Plano West and Plano East due to realignment, the gauntlet will not be as deep as it has been for Allen, Prosper and the McKinney schools.
The fact Guyer and Braswell have not been as strong in soccer as they have been in other sports will set up a difficult task for them in the spring where talent-rich programs like Allen, Boyd and Prosper are looked at as powerhouse programs in both boys and girls soccer, and McKinney boys soccer has made a habit of getting into the playoffs and making deep runs of late.
Put it all this together, the depth of the district in soccer will not be as steep as what it has been when you add Braswell and Guyer and take out the talented, physical Plano ISD schools that match up significantly better with the heavy hitters of the district.
4. Which 5-6A sport is Little Elm best suited to compete in?
Matt Welch: Little Elm competed in the postseason in boys and girls basketball during the 2019-20 school year and was in line to do the same in boys and girls soccer before the pandemic set in. The Lobos also have a combined seven playoff appearances from 2016-19 between their baseball and softball programs.
Whereas some sports (looking at you, football) are likely to endure some bumps in their annual swim through 5-6A, Little Elm’s girls soccer program has turned a corner in recent years — mustering consecutive top-two finishes in 8-5A — and has enough young talent in the tank to ease any acclimation to 5-6A.
Losing leading scorer Landri Townsend, a two-time Star Local Media all-area selection, to graduation will definitely sting, but the development of junior Austyn Applewhite, who logged 15 goals and 12 assists of her own this season, should help ease things there. The Little Elm girls also have varsity staples like junior defender Anna Palasciano, sophomore defender Ava Ronsky and junior defender Kai Pacione all with at least one year remaining on their high school careers — not to mention the presence in net of all-state keeper and junior Michelle McKee.
There’s reason for concern about the resistance programs like Allen and Prosper, both of whom will be loaded once again, can offer, but Little Elm girls soccer is in a promising spot as it transitions to Class 6A.