As the reality of high school spring sports being cancelled around the state continues to settle in, there’s plenty that student-athletes are missing these days.
The chance to fulfill ambitions of a deep playoff run. The roar of a rowdy student section. The on-field camaraderie shared between teammates. The opportunity to end the season on your own terms.
Having concluded my 11th school year covering high school sports, there’s plenty around springtime that piques my interest before the dog days of summer hit.
Here’s some of what I’ll miss, now that the 2019-20 athletics year has abruptly come to an end.
Region of Doom
Region I-6A has always offered some of the most competitive postseason soccer in the state and this year would have been no different. Just the bi-district matchups between 5-6A and 6-6A alone could pass for a regional final, with those two conferences sharing the top seven ranked girls teams in the region, according to the Texas Association of Soccer Coaches.
The Flower Mound girls were closing in on a perfect regular season, but spirited draws against Coppell, Marcus and Hebron spurred enough intrigue that any of the four postseason qualifiers from 6-6A were capable of making a deep playoff run, while the Marcus boys were humming along with one of the state’s premier scoring arsenals.
And don’t sleep on Region II-5A, where Frisco ISD has enjoyed as much success as any school district in the state. In fact, six of the past seven years have produced at least one FISD vs. FISD matchup in the soccer postseason, and the odds favored more intracity fireworks this year.
9-6A’s baseball gauntlet
For as close as soccer was to beginning its postseason, just five days stood between the day high school sports were suspended and the beginning of the 9-6A baseball schedule.
The backdrop for this particular conference slate was chalked with interesting subplots. Every team in the district was above .500 at the time, including four with double-digit wins and four with two losses or less. Collectively, 9-6A’s preseason winning percentage was 78.4% and five teams from the district — McKinney Boyd, Prosper, Allen, Plano Senior and Plano East — were all ranked within the state’s top 25 by TXHighSchoolBaseball.com.
Early signs pointed to 9-6A being one of the most competitive baseball districts in the area, only for not a single pitch to be thrown.
Athletes losing their chance at history
The record books hold a special place in sports lore, be it at the professional, college or high school levels. Some of the Metroplex’s top teams and student-athletes had chances to secure their place among that rarified company before their respective seasons were cancelled.
The Colony senior Jayda Coleman had softball’s record for runs scored in a high school career within sight, totaling 272 before the season prematurely concluded — just eight shy of eclipsing the national record held by Michigan’s Kelly Kennedy.
McKinney North senior London Culbreath, meanwhile, was looking to put a bow on one of the state’s singular distance-running careers by attempting to sweep the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs all four years of her high school career.
On the soccer pitch, the Flower Mound girls and Frisco Wakeland boys were in the midst of undefeated seasons, with the Wolverines looking to further etch their dynastic place in history. Winners of three state titles, a fourth would have bumped Wakeland up to No. 2 all-time in UIL boys soccer championships won.
The unfinished business narrative is a powerful one in high school sports, and plenty of teams had grand aspirations of success this season quashed by the pandemic after falling just short of their goals in 2019.
The Lake Dallas boys soccer team amassed its deepest playoff run ever last year — advancing to the regional finals before falling in overtime to eventual Class 5A state champion El Paso Bel Air. The Falcons returned the bulk of their lineup from that campaign in 2020 and, despite a rocky preseason, went unbeaten in district and began to rekindle that same spark that willed the team to program history one year prior.
The Allen girls echoed similar sentiments after posting their first state tournament appearance in 21 years last season and had positioned themselves to make some more noise in the playoffs with just one loss on their record when the season concluded.
Meanwhile, the Prestonwood Christian baseball team had hoped to exorcise the frustration of a stunning first-round exit in 2019 after entering the postseason ranked No. 1 in the state. The Lions bolstered similar firepower this year but won’t get their chance at redemption.
One of the most enjoyable subplots of any postseason is the chance that a team gets hot at the right time — especially when it’s a team that no one sees coming.
McKinney ISD has reaped those rewards over the past year with the Boyd baseball and McKinney girls basketball teams making runs to the state semifinals despite finishing third in their respective districts. In the Broncos’ case, they made their history by knocking off four consecutive state-ranked opponents in best-of-3 series where they dropped the first game.
In 2016, the Flower Mound girls soccer team turned a fourth-place district finish into their first-ever state championship — the same postseason that the Plano East boys mounted the second-longest playoff run in its history by advancing to the regional finals following their own fourth-place standing.
History is chalked with teams that continuously punched above their weight during the postseason, and a chance at unearthing the next Boyd baseball or Flower Mound girls soccer will have to wait until the 2020-21 school year.
One of high school sports’ tried-and-true traditions comes on the final home game of the regular season, where the hosts devote the evening to commemorating the team’s seniors. It’s a festive, nostalgic occasion that gets families involved and reflects on each senior’s value to their program over the years.
From the team captains to the players at the end of the bench, all seniors get their moment in the spotlight.
Not having that night denies seniors a ceremonial part of their final year of high school sports, but through that disappointment, teams have found other ways to honor their seniors — be it recognizing their accolades via social media, carrying out traditions like designing playoff T-shirts, or efforts like this this past weekend when Plano Senior’s baseball program organized a parade for its senior class.
Difficult times often bring out the best in people, and although these seniors won’t get the typical closure to their high school careers, their place in program lore won’t be forgotten anytime soon.