The 2020-21 high school sports year was rife with challenges for Plano ISD, Lewisville ISD and Coppell, from navigating athletics during the COVID-19 pandemic to acclimating to a revamped district landscape as part of 6-6A.
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 6-6A’s eight schools while also looking ahead to what lies in store for 2021-22.
1. What lies ahead in the 6-6A tennis landscape?
For more than two decades, Plano West has served as judge, jury and executioner on the local tennis courts.
The Wolves captured their 21st consecutive district championship last season and did so as part of the first unbeaten regular season in head coach Morgen Walker’s tenure with the program. West went on to earn its second straight state runner-up finish, falling to Round Rock Westwood in the Class 6A finals.
The Wolves should remain among the state’s elite this fall, graduating just six seniors from last season’s roster. West could have its entire contingent on the boys side back, including the duo of rising senior Ethan Scribner and rising junior Kishan Kersten, who teamed up for a state runner-up finish in boys doubles during the spring. Rising senior Natasha Opaciuch headlines the prospective returners for the Lady Wolves.
Coppell, Marcus and Flower Mound all qualified for the playoffs last fall, with the Cowboys advancing to the regional semifinals. Coppell has a strong contingent of rising seniors projected to return next season, including Vinay Patel, who teamed with alum Matthew Abbey to qualify for regionals in the spring.
2. Which programs were impacted the most, positive or negative, in the first year of this 6-6A alignment?
Although the swap of Plano ISD for Irving ISD closed the gap in terms of competitiveness for numerous sports in 6-6A, the district’s power players in Lewisville ISD and Coppell still shined throughout the school year. A couple programs whose standings actually improved in the new alignment included Marcus boys basketball, an 11th-hour playoff qualifier in 2020 that blossomed into a co-district champion in 2021, and Flower Mound boys soccer, a young group whose growing pains from 2020 paid off with a third-place finish last season.
Meanwhile, with Allen no longer lording over its district, as well as powerhouses Prosper and Jesuit, PISD got a boost on the gridiron with a major bounce back for Plano West. The Wolves qualified for the playoffs and went 6-5 after previously winning just one game over their previous three seasons.
The Plano trio took some lumps elsewhere, however. The super-sized school district collectively missed the playoffs in boys basketball and girls soccer.
3. What was 6-6A’s biggest “what might have been” story of 2020-21?
The COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on the district’s scheduling in the fall and winter. Volleyball dates were shuffled on a weekly basis, Coppell’s boys basketball team had to play three games in 24 hours to close out the regular season, and the standings on the football field were thrown into a tizzy after mid-season shutdowns at Plano and Hebron.
Let’s stick with the gridiron for this one. Obviously the aforementioned quarantines for the Hawks and Wildcats were significant, especially considering the district determined its four playoff qualifiers on total wins in the 6-6A standings, but it’s hard to look past what might have been for district champion Marcus.
The Marauders were ranked among the top teams in the area last season after running the table in district play and doing so in decisive fashion. However, Marcus’ playoff aspirations were shaken in its regular-season finale following a hand injury sustained by quarterback and two-time district MVP Garrett Nussmeier.
The injury sidelined Nussmeier for the start of the playoffs, and without the LSU commit behind center, Marcus had a short turnaround to prepare backup Jaxxon Warren for a bi-district game against area power Prosper. Although Warren and the Marauders battled, the Eagles pulled away behind a strong second half for a 38-19 victory.
It was a tough pill to swallow for a program that entered the season with aspirations of a deep playoff run, particularly after advancing to the regional semifinals for the first time since 1997 the year prior. Seeing how Prosper built off that first-round win, going all the way to the regional finals, only further begs what Marcus could have accomplished had its starting quarterback not been injured.
4. How much of a factor did enrollment play in the 6-6A pecking order?
Enrollment was merely a number when it came to determining the pecking order in 6-6A athletics during the 2020-21 school year.
The super-sized district, which has a combined enrollment of just over 35,000 students, sports three of the four largest high schools in the state in West (5,579.5), East (5,445.5) and Plano (4,999) and five schools with at least 4,000 students — Lewisville (4,468) and Coppell (4,088.5) being the others.
But correlating that with success on the playing field was a fool’s errand in 2020-21. The district’s smallest school, Marcus (3,094), wound up logging the most playoff appearances of anyone in 6-6A, qualifying in eight of the nine standings-based sports.
The district’s second-smallest school, Flower Mound (3,651), had one of the best athletics years of any school in the state — placing fifth in the final UIL Lone Star Cup standings.
By comparison, the PISD trio combined for just eight playoff appearances versus the eight for Marcus and seven for Coppell, which checked in as the district’s fifth largest high school.