If you’re in my line of work, or take interest in this little crevice of the sports landscape — be it as a player, coach or fan — you’re likely missing high school sports right about now.
As of Thursday, the calendar flipped to Day 35 since the UIL suspended all interscholastic competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the timetable currently set to “indefinitely.” To quote Pete Campbell of “Mad Men,” “Not great, Bob.”
Schools are closed for the rest of the 2019-20 school year, meaning that the next step toward a resolution for high school sports might not be too far off. But in the interim, student-athletes continue to churn through at-home workouts and adapt to new means of communicating with teammates and coaches, as teams cling to hope that they’ll get to end the season on their own terms.
Of the high school sports impacted by the lockdown, I can’t help but think of soccer.
I think back to each year’s first soccer-centric episode of our podcast, the aptly-named “Star Local Media High School Sports Podcast,” when we begin with, oddly enough, an apology. Soccer fits into a unique space in the high school sports calendar, overlapping many of the most meaningful moments of basketball season, and it often comes at the expense of live game coverage for our teams on the pitch.
The further a team like Allen or Plano Senior plays on into the basketball postseason, the longer it takes for me to lock down a Tuesday or Friday night to at last see one of the soccer teams in my coverage area.
At least in recent years, the result has been a wild game of catch-up for no more than a couple weeks of regular-season matches before the playoffs begins. It’s an unfortunate symptom of scheduling, but at least soccer teams got the limelight to themselves during the playoffs — something that was just two weeks away before the suspension.
That’s what made perusing the recent release of the post-district regional rankings from the Texas Association of Soccer Coaches a bit of a bummer — scouring the litany of top-level Dallas-area programs so close to a postseason that may go unresolved.
Historically, this portion of the state has fared well in the soccer playoffs. Last season, a Metroplex boys or girls team advanced to the state championship round in five of the six UIL classifications and captured titles in three of those matchups. Just over the past decade, the Dallas area has totaled 27 state championships across 50 total state soccer finals.
Signs pointed to continued success this spring, but, at least for me, a simple set of regional rankings added another layer of context as to what fans around the area could be missing out on.
In Region I-6A, each of the top seven girls teams — in order, Flower Mound, Coppell, Marcus, Denton Guyer, Byron Nelson, Southlake Carroll and Hebron — all reside in either 5-6A or 6-6A, two districts that would share the battlefield in the opening round of the postseason.
Last year’s Region I draw produced a third-round meeting between arguably the two best teams in the state in Carroll and Coppell, and the chance to see Denton and Tarrant County lock horns on the soccer pitch rarely disappoints.
And then there’s the potential unfinished business between Allen and Prosper, two schools that have developed a spirited rivalry in less than two years and were within earshot of each other for both 9-6A championships.
In 5A, Frisco ISD occupies four of the top five spots in the Region II girls rankings, headlined by Independence, and a chance at avenging last year’s regional finals loss to Highland Park was at the forefront of compelling subplots heading into the postseason. Meanwhile, the Wakeland boys are in the midst of a dynastic run and would have a chance at a fifth consecutive state tournament appearance put on hold.
Teams like the Lake Dallas boys, which enjoyed its deepest playoff run ever last season and looked to be rounding into form just in time, would have their momentum quashed, and others denied a chance at a possible program milestone. Celina’s girls, despite yet to advance past the second round in their team’s infancy, are ranked No. 3 in their region. The Plano girls, a legacy program whose playoff hopes have been dashed at the wire the past two seasons, were hoping the third time was the charm.
This year’s postseason has the potential to be among the area’s most compelling of the 2019-20 school year. Hopefully it doesn’t soon become relegated to thoughts of what could have been.