One of the more entertaining aspects of covering high school sports in the Metroplex are the interactions – both personal and as a spectator – with athletes.
During my time as a reporter, I have had the opportunity to profile and follow the career paths of some noteworthy athletes in Plano ISD and surrounding areas, and it’s time to look at a handful of students who impressed this past season and could be in line for even bigger roles in 2020-21.
Today, let’s look at five of the top returning athletes from Plano East who will impact their teams in various ways next season.
Hayden’s junior season was a baptism by fire, transferring from Wyoming and earning the starting quarterback job to take over an East offense that only had one returning starter.
Hayden endured some growing pains behind center but flashed his dual-threat potential in the Panthers’ district-opening 21-14 victory over McKinney Boyd. Hayden had his best game of the season against the Broncos, totaling 217 yards of offense and accounting for all three East touchdowns in the win, including the go-ahead score inside the final minute.
However, that highlight didn’t come without a cost as a late hit by Boyd injured Hayden’s shoulder. The quarterback battled the injury for the rest of the season, finishing the year with 725 passing yards, 529 rushing yards and 13 total touchdowns.
Improved health, plus a stronger command of the East offense after a full offseason, could lead to bigger things for Hayden in 2020.
The Lady Panthers have an embarrassment of riches on the basketball court, bringing back the entire starting five from a team that placed second in District 9-6A and fell just short of a trip to the regional quarterfinals.
Hall is perhaps the most versatile cog in that machine, averaging 8.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.4 steals as a sophomore — all of which ranked in the top two on the team.
An all-district first-team selection, Hall’s rebounding, particularly for a player with her speed and ball-handling, was key in generating a number of fast-break chances for the Lady Panthers, with the forward capable of both starting and finishing opportunities in transition.
As East continues its growth, expect Hall to have plenty of say in that development.
The Panthers were hopeful that a chance at finishing their regular season would have resulted in a playoff berth. East pinned those hopes on a dynamic one-two scoring punch of alum James Stautler and Che, both of whom came away with all-district superlatives.
While Stautler split 9-6A’s offensive player of the year honor, Che was just as pivotal as the conference’s newcomer of the year recipient. He tied Stautler for the team lead in goals with eight and chipped in six assists.
Head coach Rick Woodard lauded Che’s improvements during district play, encouraging an aggression that paid dividends in one of the state’s most competitive soccer conferences.
Track and Field
Kelley’s sophomore season was shaping up to be a big one. Among the area’s top sprinters, Kelley placed first in each of her four races in either the 100- or 200-meter dashes. She also ran the trail leg in East’s 4x100 and 4x200 relays, which totaled five finishes of either first or second place.
Kelley’s final times as a sophomore, albeit from over just a few weeks of action, were among the best in the state. She ranked No. 3 in Class 6A in the 200 with a 24.34 and No. 19 in the 100 with a 12.09 — times that were both personal-record runs.
Continued improvements could have Kelley in the mix for a state meet berth as a junior.
East had an impressive turnaround season in the works before its 2020 campaign was cancelled, and Shaw was among the reasons why.
One of four starter-caliber arms in head coach Jordan Byrd’s rotation, Shaw finished among the 6A leaders in both wins (three) and strikeouts (20) while adding a trio of triples from the plate to help the Panthers to a 10-1-1 start and a spot in the Diamond Pro/THSB 6A top 25.
Shaw verbally committed to Yale over the summer and is one of several Panthers carrying big expectations into the 2021 season.