With the book about to close on 2020, it’s time to look back on the year that was in Lake Dallas-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 in the fall, Lake Dallas still managed to turn in its share of highlight moments.
The Lake Cities Sun sports staff has compiled its top 10 sports stories of the year, ending with the second half of that lineup.
1. COVID-19 reshapes sports world
On March 12, the sports world came to a halt when the University Interscholastic League (UIL) announced that the boys state basketball tournament was suspended due to the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Cole’s 58-44 Class 3A semifinal win over Peaster was the final game before tournament play was halted. Wagner had been scheduled for its Class 5A semifinal against Mansfield Timberview on March 12 in a repeat of last year’s 5A final. Brandeis, making its first trip to the state tournament, had been scheduled for a Class 6A semifinal matchup against Duncanville on March 13.
All spring sports – baseball, soccer, softball and track and field — were postponed indefinitely before the remainder of the 2019-20 sports schedule was cancelled by the UIL April 17, forcing the cancellation of the postseason, including the state tournament.
Spring football was cancelled and teams across the state – regardless of sport – weren’t allowed to resume in-person workouts at team facilities until June 8, the first day that the UIL permitted summer strength and conditioning workouts (with strict social distancing guidelines in place) to be held since the pandemic began.
The start of the fall sports season for the state’s two largest classifications was pushed back by one month in response to the number of positive COVID-19 cases, but student-athletes were back on the court and football field in September and both them as well as fans have had to follow social distancing guidelines that had been put in place.
2. Girls basketball plays in first regional semifinal since 2008
When Lake Dallas girls basketball head coach Jordan Davis looks back on just what her Lady Falcons put together, she can only smile and think of just how far they have come.
Davis, who just concluded her first year at the school following the move from Flower Mound Marcus, met with the team before the year and asked them for their goals. Players said they wanted to win a district championship. They wanted to make a deep run in the playoffs.
Check on both of those.
They ended up sharing the District 8-5A crown and got the No. 1 seed for the postseason. They ended up making it to the Region I Tournament before falling to No. 1-ranked Amarillo – also the two-time defending state champion before Frisco Liberty won it all this year – in the semifinals, 52-34.
Lake Dallas stormed to some huge wins throughout the district slate. There was the 64-27 drubbing at Justin Northwest in the opener that showed just who they could be. They beat Denton Braswell. They beat The Colony – a team with some of the top college-bound seniors in the country in Tamia Jones (SMU) and Jewel Spear (Wake Forest) – twice.
3. Girls soccer soars to district title
For the Lady Falcons, the ambitions – particularly for the seniors in this one last go-around - were high after the disappointment they went through the prior campaign.
They were hungry for a different tale coming in and had lofty goals that they wanted to achieve.
“Our first goal is to get into the playoffs,” said Karina De Paoli, Lake Dallas girls soccer senior, back in February. “We also want to get district, win district, district champs.”
This group made sure those goals were fulfilled and finished just like the Lake Dallas boys.
With a 9-2-0 mark and one game remaining on the gauntlet – just ahead of Little Elm and The Colony at 8-2-1 — the Lady Falcons were declared the champions of 8-5A, which would have ensured them of their first No. 1 playoff seed since 2015.
“It feels great, regardless,” De Paoli said. “I know the season ended. It didn’t end like how we wanted it to, but it definitely was amazing to feel that we actually got first this year, and it’s my last year.”
4. Boys soccer enjoys dramatic turnaround in district after 0-7 start
Entering the year, there was a lot of promise for the Lake Dallas boys. Coming off a trip to the regional finals and a district championship year ago, they brought back a majority of the roster and were eager to build on that success.
But the Falcons stumbled out of the gate. They endured a winless pre-district schedule and dealt with a number of injuries, equating to an 0-7 mark before district play rolled around.
And then the dramatic turnaround happened.
In 11 district games, Lake Dallas never came out on the losing end of the spectrum. It went 8-0-3 – with the three ties coming to Denton, Little Elm and The Colony – while capping the season on a six-game winning streak before it was suspended and eventually canceled.
Brock Pope was named 8-5A co-MVP – his second straight MVP nod – along with Little Elm’s Santiago Castorena. Pope, a freshman at Bradley University, scored the second-most goals on the team (13) and had the third-most assists (six) after going for 19 goals and 20 assists in 2019.
5. Soccer standouts highlight National Signing Day
Hundreds of student-athletes from the Metroplex, and thousands more across the country, signed on the dotted line of where they will continue their athletic endeavors as part of National Signing Day ceremonies that were held Feb. 8.
The Falcons featured two cornerstones of their regional finalist boys soccer team in seniors Brock Pope (Bradley) and Orlando Castro (Southern Nazarene), as well as girls soccer star and senior Karina DePaoli (Arkansas-Little Rock) and senior baseball standout Connor Perry (University of Texas at Dallas).
Castro finished with two goals and a team-best eight assists.
In her final year of high school, De Paoli scored the third-most goals on the roster (seven) and tied for the second-most assists (six), which also led her to being named the 8-5A MVP.
Lake Dallas’ baseball team got in just 13 games before the pandemic halted its season, but Perry was excelling at the plate and went on to finish the abbreviated season with a .333 average, two home runs and five RBI.