The 28th ESPY Awards, the annual ceremony devoted to honoring standout professional and collegiate athletes and teams of the past year, aired on June 21.
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.
This has been a year that nobody will soon forget with the COVID-19 pandemic touching every facet of life, including high school sports, which saw its athletic year truncated on Mar. 12.
Though many of the spring sports were unable to complete their stories, the Plano area 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, Plano’s top athletes, teams and games will be recognized among nine different awards.
With that said, Star Local Media presents its eighth edition of The Varsitys, the second of a three-part series.
Iman Ndiaye, Plano West volleyball
The Lady Wolves’ 2020 senior class carried plenty of motivation into last season’s state tournament, looking to make amends after a semifinal exit in 2018.
Although West fell one set win short of hoisting a Class 6A championship, Ndiaye went out on her shield and looked the part of one of the top outside hitters in the country.
Ndiaye totaled 54 kills in the final two matches of her high school career, tearing through Fort Bend Ridge Point with 27 kills in a dramatic 3-2 semifinal win that featured numerous clutch points in the fifth set from the UCLA pledge.
Even against the airtight defense of Trophy Club Byron Nelson, the No. 1 team in the country had no recourse for Ndiaye. She logged 27 more kills against the Lady Bobcats, who subdued the rest of the West attack long enough to claim a 3-2 victory of its own.
In total, Ndiaye’s 56.5 total points scored were tops in last season’s 6A state tournament, with the West star earning a spot on the all-tournament team after leading her team to its best finish in program history.
Rodney Belcher, Plano Senior girls basketball
Belcher had kept the Lady Wildcats among the state’s elite since taking over the program six years ago, including a run to the mountaintop for a Class 6A state championship in 2018.
He was dealt a difficult hand in 2019-20, though, after losing his best player, four-year starter and Florida commit Jordyn Merritt, to an ACL injury in November. With the district’s reigning defensive player of the year, who doubled as a nightly 20-point scorer and veteran leader, relegated to the bench for the rest of the season, the Lady Wildcats divvied up those responsibilities elsewhere and soldiered ahead.
Players like Mikayla Eddins and Amaya Brannon undertook larger scoring roles, young players like Sanaa Murphy-Sowers and Jaden Berry impressed in big minutes, and the entire rotation heeded Belcher’s commitment to selfless offense and team-wide defense.
Belcher, who earned the district’s coach of the year accolade, guided Plano to a district title and its second trip to the regional finals in three seasons — a worthy coda to a strong six-year run as Belcher transitions back to the college game after accepting a position as The University of North Texas at Dallas’ first-ever women’s basketball coach.
Plano West defeats Plano East, football
Although few might have sounded the upset alarm heading into this Nov. 1 matchup, which pit the winless Wolves against the one-win Panthers, an improbable finish hardly seemed to be in the cards midway through the fourth quarter.
Behind a four-touchdown effort from quarterback Dylan Hayden, East had distanced from its crosstown rivals by three scores, 35-17, inside the final five minutes of the fourth quarter. West, mired in a 34-game losing streak, went anything but quietly into the night.
Danny Davis found Wyatt Johnson for a 16-yard score with 4:14 left to trim the gap to 35-24, and following an East three-and-out, Davis orchestrated a 12-play drive that ended in a 7-yard run by the signal caller for a sudden 35-30 deficit with 49 seconds left.
A recovered onside kick followed for the Wolves, who capitalized on a Panther personal foul to suddenly spot themselves a game-winning drive from the East 33-yard line. Davis found Cole Carter to shave off 23 of those yards and, on third-and-goal, connected with Johnson one last time for a 10-yard score that put West ahead 36-35 with 23 ticks to go.
A last-ditch effort by the Panthers ended in a game-clinching interception by John Thomas, securing an upset finish that hardly seemed plausible as the fourth quarter neared its waning moments — snapping West’s lengthy skid and marking a memorable first win for the Tyler Soukup era.