When the University Interscholastic League announced its 2018-2020 realignment, it set up a tough road to the ultimate prize for local teams.
Winning a state championship is never easy, but the new set-up looked to be a gauntlet from the start, especially for Rowlett, Sachse and the rest of the Garland ISD teams, who were now faced with the prospect of squaring off with the deep, balanced 9-6A made up of Allen, Plano ISD, McKinney ISD and Prosper in the opening round of the standings-based playoffs.
Mesquite, North Mesquite, Horn and the remainder of 11-6A also drew a new test with the revamped 12-6A that included Waco Midway, Belton, Temple and the Killeen ISD schools.
For teams fortunate to survive the sub-regional, another group of imposing challenges would be waiting in the wings with the likes of The Woodlands and Conroe ISD, Klein ISD, Spring ISD, Pflugerville ISD and Round Rock ISD.
After nearly one full athletic year, a look at the results show that the expected Region II gauntlet was just that.
District 9-6A was just as tough on the field as it was on paper, as 10-6A managed just a 8-24 record in the bi-district round. Three of those eight victories came from district newcomer Wylie.
District 11-6A fared much better against its Central Texas foes, going 19-13 in the first round. However, only four of those victories came courtesy of Mesquite ISD.
Among our local teams, only four advanced three rounds deep—Horn football, Sachse girls basketball, Mesquite boys soccer and Sachse boys soccer—and only the Mustangs on the pitch made it through to the next level.
Other teams in 10-6A and 11-6A lasted longer, as Longview football, South Garland boys basketball, Rockwall-Heath girls soccer and Wylie softball each advanced to the regional finals, with only the Lobos marching on from that point.
The district that fared best, which is not a surprise to many, is 9-6A, which featured five regional champions—Plano West volleyball, Allen football, Allen girls basketball, Allen girls soccer and McKinney Boyd baseball. They were followed by 15-6A, which boasted a trio of regional champions (Klein Forest boys basketball, The Woodlands College Park boys soccer and Klein Collins softball).
But did the Region II journey make these teams more battle-tested or battle-weary?
Of those nine regional titlists, only three advanced to the final game, with the Longview football team the lone state championship squad, although McKinney Boyd does have a chance to add its own chapter at this week’s state baseball tournament.
There are differing lines of thinking in terms of making a path deep in the playoffs, with some coaches wanting tough battles every round and others preferring to save more in the tank for the biggest stages.
Given the experience of the past athletic year, that latter line of thought is likely rendered moot when looking ahead to 2019-2020.
Whichever teams are fortunate enough to navigate the Region II landscape are once again going to have to earn it.