Celina Top 10

Celina’s football team advanced to the regional finals for the first time since 2016.

With the book having closed on 2020, it’s time to look back on the year that was in Little Elm and Celina-area athletics.

This year was like no other in recent memory, with high school sports around the country feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Amid the trying year, which included the cancellation of numerous UIL sports in the spring and the week-to-week uncertainties that plagued teams during the fall, programs from Little Elm, Celina and Prosper ISD still managed to turn in their share of highlight moments.

The Star Local Media sports staff has compiled its top 10 sports stories of the year, concluding with the second half of that lineup.

5. With the 24th pick in NBA draft…

In three years with the Little Elm boys basketball team, R.J. Hampton rewrote the history books — emerging as one of the top high school prospects in the country.

Although his path to the pros was anything but conventional, Hampton’s dream became a reality on Nov. 18 when he was selected with the 24th overall pick of the NBA draft. Hampton was initially selected by the New Orleans Pelicans, who then traded the pick to the Denver Nuggets.

Hampton’s star shined bright during his high school days — as a junior, he averaged 32 points, 9.7 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 3.9 steals per game with the Lobos. 

In leading Little Elm to the playoffs all three years, and being named the Gatorade Texas Boys Basketball Player of the Year, Hampton reclassified to the class of 2019 and opted to forgo college and play overseas with the National Basketball League’s New Zealand Breakers.

Hampton averaged 8.8 points per game in 15 games with the Breakers prior to being selected in the first round of the draft. The Little Elm star made his NBA debut on Dec. 28, scoring two points in four minutes off the Nuggets’ bench.

4. Prosper makes another big run

On the heels of its first trip to the regional finals since 2009, Prosper found itself in familiar territory on Saturday when it took the field at McKinney ISD Stadium to take on district rival Denton Guyer.

For the second straight year, the Eagles advanced at least four rounds deep in the playoffs — stacking up a 2020 campaign that ranked among the best teams in Class 6A.

Prosper spent the majority of the year slotted in the state’s top 25 — amassing an early-season road win over fellow regional finalist Euless Trinity and playing Guyer down to the wire before losing on the final play of the ballgame. The Eagles also put a scare in powerhouse Allen as well, falling mere seconds short of snapping its 80-plus-game regular-season winning streak.

Although a late-season loss to Denton Braswell momentarily put the Eagles’ playoff hopes in jeopardy, Prosper managed to sneak in as 5-6A’s final postseason qualifier. Prior to Saturday’s ballgame, it defeated Marcus (38-19), Arlington Bowie (28-7) and Northwest Eaton (27-17).

3. Clarke leads Lady Bobcats to state silver

With junior Adele Clarke leading the pack, Celina’s girls cross country team turned in another memorable year on the cross country circuit — exiting Round Rock’s Old Settlers Park with plenty of hardware following November’s Class 4A state meet.

Clarke captured the first state championship of her decorated high school career after running a 11:31.04 — a race that highlighted a second-team finish for the Lady Wildcats. Celina compiled 74 points in the team standings to place just six behind repeat champion Canyon.

The Lady Bobcats and Lady Cougars finished as 4A’s top two girls teams in the 2019 state meet as well, with Canyon eking out a 109-113 win. 

As Clarke polished off her junior season in memorable fashion, she had plenty of help elsewhere in the lineup. Senior Lily Green claimed 11th place (12:23.27) along with freshman Aimee Clarke in 17th (12:49.04), sophomore Alexis Frick in 21st (12:52.84) and sophomore Logan Brent in 24th (12:56.37) to round out the team’s top five.

2. Celina hits stride in playoffs

While the UIL staggered the start of football season into September for its two largest classifications, smaller schools like Celina were the first to try and wade through playing during a pandemic.

The results were anything but commonplace for the Bobcats, who had three regular-season games cancelled due to COVID-19 and twice had to go three weeks in between ballgames. Coupled with injuries and a rare 0-3 start, Celina exited the regular season at just 3-4 overall before rounding into form during the postseason.

The Bobcats advanced four rounds deep in the playoffs for the first time since 2016, falling at the wire in a 23-21 state quarterfinal loss to Graham.

Celina’s 6-5 campaign required contributions from numerous underclassmen, many of whom will enjoy bigger roles next season for a Bobcat team that returns 16 starters.

1. The COVID season

The COVID-19 pandemic defined 2020, and that includes a trying year for many involved in high school sports.

With the virus forcing professional and collegiate leagues around the country to suspend or cancel play in mid-March, high schools had the seasons for myriad sports put on hold. The UIL handed down multiple suspensions of play before making the call on April 17 to cancel the remainder of the sports calendar for the 2019-20 school year.

In just over one month’s time, seasons were left without closure and countless high school seniors were unable to end their athletics careers on their own terms.

With countywide shutdowns and stay-at-home policies implemented, athletic programs had to get creative to conduct their offseasons — turning to video conferencing an at-home workouts to keep athletes engaged and active.

Teams began to creep towards normalcy in June when the UIL allowed limited summer workouts — prefacing a school year where coaches, athletes and fans adapted to various protocols as teams tried to play during the pandemic.

Adversity was inevitable, with countless teams around the state battling game cancellations, postponements and in-season shutdowns due to virus outbreaks within their programs. 

The ride was indeed bumpy and riddled with uncertainty, but the UIL remained on track to conclude its fall sports schedule and, in November and December, crowned state champions in football, volleyball, cross country and tennis.

For continued news and coverage on the local sports scene, follow Matt Welch on Twitter.

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