The 29th ESPY Awards, the annual ceremony devoted to honoring standout professional and collegiate athletes and teams of the past year, aired on July 10.
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.
Last year was one that will not be soon forgotten, with the COVID-19 pandemic touching every facet of life, including high school sports, which saw its athletic year truncated on Mar. 12.
Though the pandemic continued into the start of the 2020-2021 school year, high school sports took precautions, and while there were a few hiccups along the way, every sport was able to complete their respective seasons and crown state champions.
Northeast Dallas County has showcased no shortage of notable individual and team athletic achievements, so it is only appropriate to put the last year of local varsity 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 its ninth edition of The Varsitys, the first of a three-part series.
Female Co-Breakthrough Athletes of the Year
Favor Anyanwu, Fr., Volleyball and Track and Field, Sachse; Mariah Clayton, Fr., Basketball, Mesquite
Sachse head coach Rikki Jones has had no shortage of standouts on the volleyball court over the years. That is a large reason why the Mustangs made the playoffs in their inaugural campaign in 2004 and have never missed the postseason, a run of 17 straight appearances that includes at least a share of the district title in eight consecutive years.
A big reason for the consistency has been the ability to reload on an annual basis and Anyanwu was the latest star to emerge.
The freshman made an immediate impact to earn 9-6A newcomer of the year honors. Anyanwu registered 127 kills, an average of 2.4 per set, and also ranked among the team leaders with 50 blocks.
Anyanwu also made a splash in the spring, where she took gold at the district track and field meet in the shot put with a throw of 36-08.75 and added another first-place finish with a mark of 124-11 in the discus.
She would go on to place second in each event at the area meet to earn a spot at the Region 2 competition in her inaugural campaign.
Clayton was tabbed 10-6A newcomer of the year on the basketball court after nearly guiding the Skeeters to their first playoff berth since 2014.
The freshman forward made an immediate impact, averaging a double-double on the season with 21 points and 11 rebounds per game.
Alongside fellow freshman Tajanae Gooden, that duo could help Mesquite return to the postseason for the first time in eight years.
2013: Jada Underwood, Horn girls basketball; Cyera Hintzen, Sachse girls soccer
2014: Jordie Harr, Sachse girls soccer; Morgan McCallum, Horn softball
2015: Rebecca Taylor, Mesquite softball
2016: Taneyah Brown, Poteet volleyball
2017: Katlin Lusk, Sachse softball
2018: Brooklynn Gonzales, Horn girls soccer
2019: Madison McClarity, Sachse softball
2020: Crislyn Rose, Sachse basketball; Itzel Reyes, West Mesquite soccer
Co-Male Breakthrough Athletes of the Year
Cordale Russell, So., Football and Track and Field, North Mesquite; Chance Edwards, Jr., Football, Mesqutie
Though neither the Stallions or Skeeters were able to make the playoffs last season, both developed building blocks that should help them make a push in the fall.
Russell was selected as the 10-6A newcomer of the year. The 6-3, 190-pound sophomore provided a big target on the outside for the Stallions. Not only did he rank among the district leaders in receiving, he has also attracted the attention of colleges, with several recruiting offers already in hand.
Russell also competed for the North Mesquite track and field team in the spring, where he ran on both the 4x200 and 4x400 relays.
When last season began, it was unclear who would be taking snaps for the Mesquite, but Edwards quickly answered that question.
In his first year as a starter, he was voted as a unanimous first-team selection at quarterback. For the year, he completed 110-of-218 passes for 1,608 yards and 18 touchdowns and also had the ability to make plays on the ground.
With a year of experience under his belt, and has one of 15 returning starters for new head coach DeMarcus Harris, the Skeeters are thinking playoffs in November.
2013: Malik Jefferson, Poteet football
2014: Michael Kolawole, Rowlett boys basketball; Jesus Armendariz, Poteet boys soccer
2015: Chris Robinson, Horn football; LaDarius Dickens, Rowlett football
2016: Jalen Mayden, Sachse football
2017: Caleb Boger, Mesquite football/track and field
2018: Ty Jordan, West Mesquite football/track and field
2019: Kendrick Smallwood, Poteet track and field
2020: Rodolfo Coronel, West Mesquite soccer
Game of the Year
Rowlett vs Sachse Football
Rowlett and Sachse have staged some classics in their rivalry over the years, and in fact, their head-to-head meeting has now been featured in three of the last four years on this list.
The “Hammer Bowl” as the two student bases call it, is not just about neighboring towns clashing on the gridiron, there are usually district title and playoff berths at stake, as well.
Though that was not the case this season, due to factors that will be noted a little later, the Eagles and Mustangs once again put on one of the best games of the year, with Rowlett able to prevail for a 35-33 victory to claim their first win in the series since 2015.
The defenses controlled the start, with the Eagles finally breaking through with a touchdown late in the first quarter to take a 7-0 lead.
Sachse tied it on a fourth-and-18 play, when quarterback Alex Orji found Elijah Aimes for a 33-yard touchdown pass to tie it at 7-7.
Rowlett came right back with Tre Carr hooking up with Hector Soto for a 18-yard scoring strike with just 34 seconds left before halftime to give them a 14-7 lead at the break.
The back-and-forth nature continued in the second half. Orji found Jagger Roland for a 12-yard score to momentarily tie it, but the Eagles responded with a 10-yard scoring run from D’Wonyae Newton to regain a 21-14 edge late in the third quarter.
The final frame would feature 33 combined points between the teams.
The Eagles tried to open some breathing room when Carr found Dorian Burnett for a 56-yard scoring strike to make it a two-score game at 28-14.
Sachse came right back, again converting on fourth down as Orji broke free for a 32-yard touchdown run to close to within 28-20.
Rowlett again kept the Mustangs at arm’s length, as a 26-yard touchdown pass from Carr to Ernest Thomas made it 35-20 with only 5:06 left.
The Mustangs needed less than two minutes to answer. Aided by a long kick return by Kori Jones, Orji then hit Jhett Creel with a 12-yard scoring pass to draw to within 35-27 with 3:12 left.
The Sachse defense did its job with a three-and-out and shortly after, Orji hooked up with Tyler Williams for a 47-yard gain and then weaved through the defense on a 20-yard touchdown run to draw to within 35-33 with 1:42 remaining.
Because of the earlier missed extra point, the Mustangs had no choice but to go for two, but the pass fell incomplete.
Sachse attempted an onside kick, but JaCory Brown recovered for Rowlett, allowing them to run out the clock and celebrate the rivalry win.
2013: Poteet 52, Wylie 49 (4A Region II Football Semifinals)
2014: Poteet 65, Whitehouse 60 (4A Region II Football Semifinals); Sachse 63, Mesquite 56 (5A Football Bi-District Playoffs)
2015: Rowlett 35, Tyler Lee 30 (11-6A Football); Poteet 37, West Mesquite 35 (12-5A Football)
2016: Poteet 46, Wylie East 43 (5A Division I Football Area Finals); Rowlett 65, Belton 64 (6A Division I Football Bi-District Playoffs)
2017: Rowlett 63, Lakeview 62, OT (10-6A Football); West Mesquite 46, Lovejoy 37 (15-5A Football)
2018: Sachse 42, Rowlett 35 (10-6A Football Championship); Poteet 38, West Mesquite 31 (7-5A Division I Football
2019: Tyler John Tyler 48, Poteet 44 (7-5A Division I Football); Sachse 3, Rowlett 2 (10-6A Girls Soccer Championship)
2020: Sachse 42, Rowlett 40 (9-6A Football); Mesquite 18, Tyler Legacy 14 (10-6A Football)