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, the Plano area has 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 Performance: Plano East’s Tiriah Kelley at the Region I-6A track and field meet
Everything Kelley touched turned to gold on April 24 at the Region I-6A track meet, held at the University of Texas at Arlington.
The Lady Panthers’ star sprinter racked up qualifications for the Class 6A state meet in three different events that day and did so by crossing the finish line first each time out.
Kelley staked her claim as the fastest sprinter in the region by winning both the 100 (11.75) and 200 (24.00), plus running the last leg of East’s first-place 4x100 relay alongside senior Kaylee Moody, alum Ibukun Alausa and senior Kaley Qualls (47.27).
Kelley won all three events at the district and area meets as well and went on to place seventh in the 100 and fourth in the 200 and 4x100 relay at state.
Best Coach: Jessica Linson, Plano East girls basketball
Although Linson’s time leading the Lady Panthers spanned just two seasons — she accepted the same head coaching position at South Oak Cliff in June — she elevated the program to a level it hasn’t been in decades.
After a run to the area round of the playoffs in 2020, East made a sizable leap one year later. The Lady Panthers went 20-4 last season, ran the table in District 6-6A and advanced to the regional finals for the first time since 1993.
Named coach of the year in 6-6A, as well as on Star Local Media’s all-area team, Linson was instrumental in the Lady Panthers’ resurgence — she entrusted prominent roles to a cast of underclassmen and nurtured those players through any growing pains to help produce a group that thrived on balance and hard-nosed defense.
East held opponents to less than 40 points per game on the season and allowed only one team on it schedule (South Grand Prairie) to score more than 50 points against them. Offensively, any one of six Lady Panthers were capable of leading the team in scoring on a given night.
The Lady Panthers have their core intact and will look to maintain their forward momentum next season under head coach Derrick Richardson, while Linson looks to replicate her success at East with SOC.
Biggest Upset: Plano baseball defeats McKinney Boyd, May 6-7
The Wildcats had to claw their way into the playoffs as a No. 4 seed, defeating rival Plano West in a play-in game for the district’s final postseason berth.
Despite drawing 5-6A champion McKinney Boyd in the bi-district round, Plano rose to the occasion from the onset in an eventual two-game sweep of its former district rival.
Plano leaned on pitching and defense to win ballgames of 4-1 and 3-1 — the duo of alum Blake Van Cleve and junior Kyle Bade combined to allow just two earned runs as the Wildcats’ starting pitchers and alum Jacob Prokarym impressed in relief by striking out 11 batters and not allowing a single hit in five innings pitched.
Plano surged ahead in Game 1 with three runs in the fifth inning after a Boyd botched a pick-off attempt at second base and struck early for three runs in the first inning of Game 2 to pace the two-game series win.
The Wildcats weren’t done there, going on to advance to the regional quarterfinals for the first time since 2014.