Celina Varsitys Breakthrough

Celina rising junior Noah Bentley shined both on the football field and baseball diamond during his sophomore year.

The 29th ESPY Awards, the annual ceremony devoted to honoring standout professional and collegiate athletes and teams of the past year, aired on Saturday.

It's the sports equivalent to the Oscars or Grammys, so Star Local Media has decided in recent years to put a high school spin on the concept.

The 2020-21 school year won’t be soon forgotten by the athletes, coaches and fans involved, as high schools adapted to the change brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and managed to play out a full year of high school sports.

During that time, Celina and Prosper showcased no shortage of notable individual and team athletic achievements, so it’s only appropriate to put the last year of local sports into an award-winning perspective. In the coming weeks, the city’s top athletes, teams and games will be recognized among nine different awards.

With that said, Star Local Media presents the ninth edition of The Varsitys.

 

Best Game

Allen vs. Prosper football, Nov. 27

The athletics rivalry between Allen and Prosper has produced some memorable occasions over the past three years. This matchup, contested on a Friday afternoon in the penultimate week of the regular season, featured five fourth-quarter lead changes and a controversial finish that preserved the state’s longest regular-season winning streak.

Despite playing in a venue where Allen is yet to lose a football game, Prosper was up for the challenge all afternoon at Eagle Stadium. Prosper led 10-7 at halftime and regained the upper hand on the scoreboard three more times, including with 1:03 left in the fourth quarter after Jackson Berry found Keaton Nickerson for a 5-yard touchdown and a 31-28 advantage.

Allen countered with an eight-play drive capped by a 1-yard touchdown pass from General Booty to Bryson Green with six seconds remaining for a 35-31 lead.

Hijinks ensued on the following kickoff as an attempted lateral drill by Prosper was scuttled on an inadvertent whistle by the officials on a backwards pass. Prosper was given one last chance with no time left, but Allen made the stop to secure the 35-31 win and extend its regular-season win streak to 82.

Breakthrough Athlete

Noah Bentley, Celina baseball and football

Bobcat fans got a glimpse of Bentley’s potential on the diamond during an abbreviated 2020 season.

As a sophomore, Bentley staked his claim as one of the top arms in Class 4A. One half of a stout one-two punch on the mound along with fellow rising junior RJ Ruais, Bentley posted season-long tallies of a 1.19 ERA, a 0.866 WHIP, 115 strikeouts and 28 walks across 64.2 innings pitched. 

Within those figures, Bentley logged four no-hitters and teamed up with Cole Marthiljohni as part of a perfect game by the Bobcats against Gainesville on March 23.

Adding a .379 batting average to go along with 36 hits, 32 RBIs and 21 runs, Bentley’s talents weren’t just confined to the baseball field. He started a majority of games at quarterback for Celina’s football team, passing for 1,601 yards and 20 touchdowns to just two interceptions. He added four touchdowns on the ground and helped the Bobcats to a 6-5 record and a trip to the regional finals in the 4A Division II playoffs.

Biggest Moment

High school sports return during COVID-19 pandemic

To what extent there would even be a high school athletics year was in question during the summer of 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down springtime sports around the state in March 2020 and put local high school programs in limbo as to what would lie ahead.

A light at the end of the tunnel appeared in June when schools were given the go-ahead to conduct limited summer workouts with an added emphasis on hygiene and social distancing.

The next dominoes fell in mid-July when the UIL staggered the start of the athletics year for the state’s smallest and largest classifications — delaying the start of sports like football and volleyball until September for 5A and 6A schools.

As areas like Celina took to the playing field on schedule in August, it required adapting to myriad protocols — limitations on attendance, socially distanced crowds and sideline benches, plus athletes competing while masked.

It was the “new normal” of trying to afford student-athletes an opportunity to ply their crafts during a pandemic, and although it meant braving plenty of change, it was a welcome sight for the athletes, coaches and fans alike.

By the end of the school year, the UIL completed its entire athletics calendar and crowned state champions in every classification.

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

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