Author: Mike Lee, Special to Big Country Preps

FEATURE: De Leon volleyball poised for another playoff run after slow start

Photos courtesy of Tayla Rainwater and Rob Mendez

Team photo by De Leon student Tayla Rainwater.

A 6-7 start by the De Leon volleyball team was somewhat understandable despite last year’s unprecedented run to the Class 2A regional semifinals in what was the Lady Cats’ best season on record.

“We lost three really good seniors off last year’s team, so we had some big shoes to fill,” fourth-year De Leon head coach Kinsey Garcia said Tuesday. “Plus we were fitting in a talented newcomer to the team (in sophomore Genesis Mendez). We didn’t play any tournaments last year because of COVID, so we had to get used to playing multiple matches in a day.”

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FOLLOW UP: Wolves end 26-game skid with ‘crazy, nutty’ finish

Game photos courtesy of Joel Ashby, Amy Raschke and Carrie Gutierrez. 

Dan Gainey

Dan Gainey had to collect his thoughts when asked the feeling at the end of the Colorado City Wolves at Haskell Indians football game Friday at Haskell.

“There are a lot of adjectives to describe it – crazy, nutty. Some things just don’t make any sense at all,” said Gainey, ninth-year head coach at Colorado City.

The finish — which involved two interceptions, a safety, the return of a squib kick for a touchdown and two attempts at the winning extra point – was unbelievable enough. But consider also that Colorado City’s 28-27 win over Haskell ended the Wolves’ 26-game losing streak that dated to 2018.

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FEATURE: Comanche senior Carr learns role of the busy libero

Portrait by Sutherland Photography of Goldthwaite. Action photos by Santos Gomez. 

The role of libero requires a mentally tough leader determined to get to every ball to flip the game from defense to offense with the dig, pass, set and kill sequence for her volleyball team.

When Comanche needed a new starting libero this season, senior Makenna Carr was a natural choice.

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FEATURE: Rasberry emerges as dangerous weapon in loaded Dublin passing game

The Dublin Lions have four players with more than 300 yards receiving halfway through the regular season, with junior Dalan Rasberry emerging as the receptions leader.

Rasberry has a team-high 24 receptions for 353 yards and three touchdowns as Dublin (4-1) prepares for its District 5-3A Division II opener Friday at Comanche. The Lions’ stable of receivers also includes Tyler Harrell, who has 18 catches for 325 yards and two TDs; Christian Ramirez (17-375-5) and Cooper Hubble (9-323-5).

All four Dublin receivers are ranked in the top 10 of the bigcountrypreps.com leaders.

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FEATURE: ACS junior Beard recovers from knee surgery to play on both rows

Photos courtesy of Kelsey Aycock of Copper and Pearl Photo & Video

Despite a season-ending ACL knee injury last year, Campbell Beard become an inspiration as the 2020 Abilene Christian School volleyball team advanced to the TAPPS Class 2A regional final.

“I was set to help the team try to get to state, but that wasn’t part of the plan,” Beard said of 2020. “So I wanted to be there for my teammates. It was hard at times to put a smile on my face, but it allowed me to see a different perspective as a cheerleader and encourager for the team.”

ACS coach Arnett McClure said, “I can’t imagine how depressing it was for Campbell, but she was at every practice and game yelling for the team, talking to the players and picking people up.

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FEATURE: Breck libero Thompson an ace at keeping the ball alive

Photos courtesy of Calvin Best, Breckenridge ISD

Haigan Thompson’s Big Country-leading 10.9 digs per set begins with studying video of opponents with first-year Breckenridge coach Paula Taylor.

“The very first thing is we try to study our opponents’ tendencies – especially where they like to hit the ball and where certain players like to hit the ball,” Taylor said Monday. “We talk to our assistant coaches during the matches about where they’re hitting the ball, and we listen to Haigan about what spots they’re hitting to.”

Thompson, a 5-foot-4 junior libero, also reads and reacts based on keys from the opponents’ hitters during matches.

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FEATURE: Anderson is Brownwood’s latest bell-cow running back

Konlyn Anderson has exceeded expectations through four games this season as Brownwood’s latest bell-cow running back, a crucial role in Lions head coach Sammy Burnett’s run-first offensive scheme.

“I honestly believe that if we can move the ball on the ground, we can control the clock and control the opponents’ possessions,” Burnett said Saturday. “If we can run, that opens up our RPOs (run-pass options), our play-action passes and our vertical passing game.”

Burnett’s belief in the running game comes from his football roots. He played the 1985 season at Brownwood for legendary coach Gordon Wood and the 1986 and 1987 seasons for Randy Allen, two of the four winningest coaches in Texas high school football history. Both Wood and Allen utilized the run-first Wing-T offense.

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FEATURE: Talented Potts lifts up Sweetwater volleyball team

Portrait by Brandi Dent Photography in Sweetwater.  Action photo by Will McClure

There’s no denying the impact of versatile senior Jazzane Potts on the Sweetwater volleyball team. The Lady Mustangs opened this season 1-12 while Potts was undergoing treatment on both her knees, but Sweetwater is 6-5 since her return.

Sweetwater (7-17) had won five consecutive matches entering Tuesday’s nondistrict match at Wall.

“We were sending her to three different doctors,” third-year Sweetwater coach Mitzi Bell said Monday. “We kept asking Jazzane, ‘Are you cleared yet? Are you cleared yet?’”

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FEATURE: Cisco star Hearne doesn’t mind doing the dirty work.

There was no doubt what play Cisco football coach Kevin Stennett wanted to call when he made the decision to go for two extra points while trailing Breckenridge 27-26 in overtime last Friday night.

“I wanted my quarterback, Hunter Long, to carry the ball, and I wanted him to run behind (tight end) Dawson Hearne,” Stennett said. “We even moved Dawson from one side of the formation to the other side so Hunter could follow him. Those are two people I trust. That’s the best I can do to get in the end zone right there.”

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GOLDTHWAITE FEATURE: Eagles’ Patrick has enjoyed success, but wants more wins in football

GOLDTHWAITE — Jackson Patrick has played on a state championship golf team and a state runner-up golf team. He has qualified for state in track and field in the pole vault. He has been the best 3-point shooter on a playoff basketball team.

But there’s one glaring omission from the athletic resume of the Goldthwaite High School senior: a winning season in football.

Patrick has started for the Eagles in football since he was a freshman, when he was leading the team in receiving, scoring, and tackles before his season was cut short because of a broken leg. Goldthwaite finished 1-9.

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2021 GOLDTHWAITE PREVIEW: Timing may be right for Virdell’s third season

GOLDTHWAITE — The timing may be right for the Goldthwaite Eagles to end their longest losing skid in 45 years.

Third years are often when circumstances improve for new coaches tasked with rebuilding football programs. Third-year Goldthwaite head coach Keith Virdell just completed his first full offseason with his players, and he has 12 seniors that won back-to-back district championships in middle school but have struggled so far in high school.

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FEATURE: Hawley baseball: From 2-13 to the regional quarterfinals

Photos courtesy of Taylor Seago

The rebuilding Hawley Bearcats were 2-13 in nondistrict baseball games this season. A 5-5 record in District 8-2A, combined with a lost coin flip with Stamford, left Hawley as a No. 4 seed entering the Class 2A playoffs.

But since the postseason began, Hawley has won four of five games, including a two-game sweep of state-ranked De Leon and a marathon three-game series with Eldorado.

So as Hawley (11-19) prepares for its 2A regional quarterfinals best-of-three series against Albany, the answer everyone wants to know is: What happened to the Bearcats once the playoffs began?

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FEATURE: Goldthwaite’s Bartek is not a typical three-sport state qualifier

Photos by Brandon Bartek and Ashley Spradley 

If one high school has one male that qualified for state in three different sports — all within the same academic year — most people would expect the guy to be 6 feet and 180 pounds.

Meet Goldthwaite sophomore Connor Bartek, a state qualifier in cross country last fall, plus track and golf this spring. He stands 5 feet tall and weighs just under 100 pounds. In cross country last fall, Bartek qualified for state for the second consecutive year and finished 11th individually in Class 2A.

In track, Bartek finished fourth in the 2A 3,200 meters Friday, May 7, and his time of 10 minutes, 12.77 seconds broke a 35-year-old Goldthwaite school record.

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GAME STORY: Hawley softball cools Miles’ win streak and hot bats

Photos by Seth LaRue 

BROWNWOOD — Saturday’s Class 2A softball area playoff game between Hawley and Miles seemed more like two games. There was the first inning, which Hawley fell behind 3-0. Then there was the rest of the game, which the Lady Cats dominated with a dozen unanswered runs.

The Hawley Lady Cats completed a best-of-three series sweep of the Miles Lady Bulldogs with Saturday’s 12-3 decision as freshman pitcher ShayLynn Bailey settled down after a rough first inning and finished with a complete-game four-hitter.

Hawley (12-4) advanced to play the Anson-McCamey winner in next week’s regional quarterfinals. If it’s Anson, Hawley squeezed out a pair of one-run wins during their District 7-2A games earlier this season.

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FEATURE: Wylie’s Aguilar perseveres through injuries to break vaulting records

Two-plus years of effectively handling adversity and injuries paid off in a big way for Wylie senior Kylor Aguilar at the recent Region I-5A track and field meet.

Completely healthy for the first time since his freshman season in 2018, Aguilar cleared 16 feet, 3 inches on April 23 in Lubbock. His vault broke the Region I-5A meet record, the Wylie school record and Aguilar’s personal record.

“To be honest, no, I didn’t sense something like that was going to happen,” Aguilar said of his record-setting day. “There was supposed to be some bad crosswinds, so going in, I was just trying to qualify for state.”

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FEATURE: Dublin coaches forget about Kevin Patton’s hip disease because he never mentions it

Dublin freshman Kevin Patton handles his hip disease so discreetly, his coaches sometimes forget about it.

“I knew about it, but until you asked me about it, I had completely forgotten about it,” said Scott Mitchell, the Dublin Lions’ second-year baseball coach. “His hip issue has not hindered him as an athlete. He’s a competitor. He’s a starter on our baseball team as a freshman.

“I have all the confidence in the world in Kevin doing whatever he wants to do.”

Patton began this baseball season on the Dublin JV, but was quickly called up to the varsity. Over the last half of the regular season, he has started at second base for the young, rebuilding Lions, who were 6-19 overall and 2-10 in District 8-3A through last week’s games.

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FEATURE: Hitting machine Arellano changes positions again — this time to pitcher and third base

Photos by Calvin Best, Breckenridge ISD journalism teacher.

Taking on a new role this season is nothing new for Jonas Arellano. The Breckenridge senior has played almost every position a baseball player can during his high school career.

After playing on Breckenridge teams loaded with upperclassmen the last two years, Arellano is now the Buckaroos’ most experienced player and one of just three seniors in 2021.

“We lost 11 seniors last year, so we basically called up our 2020 JV to start this season,” third-year Breckenridge coach Kevin Bartley said. “Jonas is our heart and soul. He was a part of our 31-4 team in 2019 that made the regional semifinals. He’s our only player with deep playoff experience. He understands team chemistry and keeps everybody moving in the right direction.”

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FEATURE: May’s Reese Chambers seeking return to state in sprints

The present and the future will intersect this week for Reese Chambers.

The May senior will compete in the sprint races at the Region II-1A track and field meet at San Angelo. This is the week in which Chambers can qualify for next month’s UIL state meet after finishing fifth in the 100 meters and ninth as a member of the 400-meter relay at state as a sophomore in 2019.

The top two finishers in each event at regional guarantee themselves a spot in the UIL Class 1A state meet on May 8 in Austin.

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FEATURE: De Leon left-hander Lane Powledge is throwing smoke again

Photos by Melissa Sones

Lane Powledge’s elbow issues of 2020 were left in 2020.

Through last week’s baseball games, the De Leon senior left-handed pitcher was 5-1 with a 1.75 earned run average. He also is the Big Country leader with 71 strikeouts in 28 innings.

“This year he’s off to an all-state start,” De Leon head coach Ricky Barrett said. “We’re a different team when he’s on the mound. He’s pitching lights out. He’s ready to go all the time.”

After going 9-2 with a 1.15 ERA as a sophomore in 2019, Powledge was just starting his pitching comeback from an elbow injury in mid-March last year. He threw 42 strikes in 48 pitches in his first appearance of 2020, and followed with a five-inning one-hitter to beat Santo.

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FEATURE: With focus solely on track, Brock’s Torrye Tyler now a threat in the 800 and 400

Photos by Tommy Hays Photography in Brock

Eleventh-year Brock girls’ track coach Keith Shoush always wanted to see what Torrye Tyler could do in the 800 meters.

“Torrye was a Division I recruit in basketball, and the team was always making a deep run in the playoffs,” Shoush said. “I never had her for longer than spring break to the district meet as far as choosing events. We didn’t try the 800 because we didn’t have time to get her in shape for it.”

Until this year.

Tyler, a senior, made a tough decision to stop playing basketball and focus solely on track. With more time to train, Tyler leads the Big Country in all classifications in the 800 meters with a best time of 2 minutes, 19.75 seconds.

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FEATURE: Albany’s Chapman on track despite loss of 2020 season

Photos courtesy of Albany High School student Elia Hebel

No 2020 track and field season. No problem in 2021 for Albany sophomore Cole Chapman.

Some athletes feel like they lost a year’s development after COVID-19 prematurely shut down the 2020 spring sports season. But Chapman appears to be on schedule. His top triple jump mark of 43 feet, 7 inches led the Big Country through last week’s track meets, and his best of 21-7 in the long jump ranked No. 2.

He contributes a lot of his success this spring to working on Saturdays with Albany assistant coach Ryder Peacock, a former state champion high jumper from Woodson who also competed collegiately.

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FEATURE: Second-ranked Jim Ned loaded with pitching

Choose the best answer to complete the following statement:

The undefeated and No. 2-ranked Jim Ned Indians possess so much pitching depth this season that

  1. two of their starters have pitched perfect games while another has pitched a no-hitter.
  2. they actually enjoyed the tournament season, when most teams exhaust their pitching depth.
  3. third-year coach Ryan Lewis said, “Some of our pitchers don’t have as many innings as they’d like because there’s only one mound.”
  4. all of the above.
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FEATURE: Wall’s Tate Williams set tone for final track season with record day

Wall senior Tate Williams had been eyeing the school record in the shot put since his freshman year. So when the time finally came earlier this spring, he didn’t just break the 52-year-old mark, he surpassed it three times in one day.

The record-setting day came Feb. 25 in a dual meet with Christoval. Just out of basketball season, Williams had practiced throwing the shot put for only two days before breaking the school record of 55 feet, 1¼ inches set in 1969 by Glen Dierschke.

Williams’ second throw of the day was 55-1½, surpassing Dierschke’s record by one-fourth of an inch. Williams’ third throw was 55-6½, improving his brand new school record. His fourth throw was 57-8½, establishing a new Wall record by more than 2 feet.

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FEATURE: New coach, new team, new challenges for Abilene High volleyball

Imagine taking over for a popular, 24-year head coach. Then imagine inheriting a young team that has started 3-6 overall and 1-3 in District 2-6A. Oh yeah, your team also is currently sitting out for a two-week COVID-19 quarantine.

If there’s a first-year head coach who can put those challenges in perspective, it might be Devron Shepherd, who was promoted to head volleyball coach at Abilene High in May after serving three seasons as an assistant for Didi Pierce. Pierce won more than 500 matches in 24 years as the Eagles’ head coach.

“Didi is a great lady,” Shepherd said this week. “She paved the way so that it wasn’t hard for me to take over. She was organized in terms of the program in place and supportive of me.”

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FEATURE: Wylie volleyball rebounds from COVID-19 quarantine

Photos courtesy of Kerr Broadstreet, WylieSports.com

A 5-1 start hardly tells the story of the Wylie volleyball season so far.

On Tuesday, Sept. 22, less than an hour before Wylie was scheduled to host Wichita Falls Rider and Midland High in a nondistrict dual match, the Lady Bulldogs were informed they had to be quarantined until further notice because of a positive COVID-19 test of two staff members within the program.

The Wylie varsity and two JV teams were exposed to the positive testers during a bus trip to play at Aledo on Sept. 19.

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FEATURE: Bluekatts, Allen grow into district leaders in three years

Photos courtesy of ColemanToday.com

Abbi Allen laughs when asked about her initial motivation for joining the fledgling Coleman High School volleyball program three years ago. After all, she had played basketball since age 7 and already was an accomplished player. Why try a new sport you’ve never played?

“If you want to know the truth, if you don’t play volleyball at Coleman in the fall, you have to run cross country. And cross country just isn’t my cup of tea,” said Allen, now a third-year starter for the Coleman Bluekatts volleyball team.

“I always thought volleyball could be fun, and it has been. So that made it like a double bonus.”

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FEATURE: From a novice to a natural: Clyde’s Underwood never comes off the volleyball court

Photos by Stan West, Rachel Laughlin and Toni Brockway

Liz Underwood was focused on basketball as a sixth-grader at Clyde. That is, until new Clyde High School volleyball coach Laura Carr asked her to join a traveling club team.

“She wanted to play on a traveling volleyball team with girls in the grade above me,” Underwood said. “She said she needed a middle blocker. I was thinking to myself, ‘I don’t even know what a middle blocker is.’ But she’s the coach, and she asked me so I said, ‘Yes.’ ”

At her first practice, Underwood realized that volleyball was truly a team sport in which players relied on each other’s skills.

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FEATURE: Lions push through game without coach and radio crew, courtesy of COVID-19

BROWNWOOD — The replacements surrounding the tradition-rich Brownwood Lions’ football program all succeeded with winning colors Friday night.

COVID-19 sidelined Brownwood’s head coach and entire four-person radio crew, including legendary broadcaster Dallas Huston, for Friday’s high school game against the Midland Greenwood Rangers. On the field, defensive coordinator David Jones filled in for missing head coach Sammy Burnett, and the Lions never trailed in beating the Rangers 35-15.

“Coach Jones did a fine job,” said Burnett, who watched a livestream of Friday’s game. “He’s an experienced coach, and he knows what he’s doing. I had no concerns with Coach Jones because I trust him wholeheartedly. He’s very loyal.”

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FEATURE: Goldthwaite QB Patrick is Eagles’ link to winning mindset

Football coaches looking to rebuild a program often seek leadership from players who have won in other sports. In Goldthwaite, where the once-high flying Eagles enter this season having lost 21 of 24 games, that link is Jackson Patrick.

As a freshman, Patrick helped the Goldthwaite boys’ golf team win the Class 2A state championship as the Eagles’ No. 4 golfer. As a sophomore, he played a big role off the bench for Goldthwaite’s district championship boys’ basketball team.

“Winning is a mindset,” said Patrick, a junior quarterback and defensive back in football. “We talk about winning every rep in every drill in practice, and winning every play in the games. You don’t win football games just on Friday night. You win during practice and conditioning and doing the hard stuff.

Continue reading “FEATURE: Goldthwaite QB Patrick is Eagles’ link to winning mindset”

2020 GOLDTHWAITE FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Goldthwaite hopes improvement means more wins

The Goldthwaite Eagles should be an improved football team over last year’s 2-8 finish. But turning that improvement into more wins will be tough in District 4-2A Division I, which includes No. 4-ranked Cisco and No.10 San Saba, according to the texasfootball.com preseason rankings.

Cisco appeared in five state championship games from 2002-2013 while in Class 3A, and San Saba is 27-2 over the last two seasons. Goldthwaite’s three other District 4-2A DI opponents — Coleman, De Leon and Winters — beat the Eagles by a combined 89-13 last year.

The Eagles still have a big gap to close on the district leaders.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: COVID-19 cost former Eastland star his first chance at the NFL

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

The sports cancellations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t just affect high school athletes from the Big Country. Brant Bailey, who grew up in Eastland and became a four-year starting tight end at Tarleton State University, lost his initial chance to sign with a NFL team as an undrafted free agent

Now back home stocking shelves and serving as a cashier at Brookshire’s Food & Pharmacy in Eastland, Bailey likely will need a Kurt Warner stroke of good fortune to get a chance in the NFL.

The COVID-19 pandemic first canceled the pro day at Tarleton scheduled for March 23. APEC, the Fort Worth fitness center where Bailey was training with other NFL prospects this past spring, had scheduled its own pro day March 20.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: After historic 2019 season, Clyde golfers were poised for more this spring  

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Fred Wendlick played golf for Clyde, where he graduated from high school in 1985, and has coached golf at his alma mater for the last 20 years. But last year was special.

The Clyde boys’ golf team qualified for state for the first time in school history.

“It’s all about the kids,” Wendlick said. “It was an incredible year. We had a great time down there (in Austin) at the state tournament. We played hard, and we improved the second day.”

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Goldthwaite’s Medina, Jernigan made the most of their final track races

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

— Photos by Brennan Medina, Anne Jernigan and Ashley Spradley

Goldthwaite seniors Callie Jernigan and Kylee Medina heard what seemed like a bizarre message from their coach prior to running the 300-meter hurdles and 1600 meters, respectively, March 12 at the Llano track meet.

“I jokingly — more or less — told them this could be their final races. I never thought at the time that it really would be,” said Blake Ashmore, Goldthwaite’s first-year head girls’ track coach.

“We knew the NCAA had just canceled their basketball tournaments (because of the COVID-19 pandemic). We thought the season might get pushed back a little, but I don’t think any of us knew the heaviness of the situation at that moment,” Ashmore said.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Merkel’s next track star lost a year of development

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

—Photos by Brit Pursley

The COVID-19 “What Might Have Been” story of Alyssa O’Malley is not one of an athlete losing her senior year of spring sports. It’s a story of a promising sophomore losing a season of development as a budding track and field star.

Kaydi Pursley, who did lose her senior spring sports season, rightfully earned the badge as Merkel’s star athlete in basketball and track this year. She averaged 17 points for the Merkel girls’ basketball team, which finished 22-8 last season and advanced to the second round of the Class 3A playoffs. In track, the Abilene Christian University signee entered this year as a three-time state qualifier in the 300-meter hurdles and an 11-foot pole vaulter.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: COVID-19 the only thing that stopped Dillos’ unlikely hoops run

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Alamodome Shoot-Around photo courtesy of San Saba ISD 

The San Saba Armadillos’ run to the UIL Class 2A Boys Basketball State Tournament was so unlikely, even their coach didn’t imagine it.

“I thought we had enough athleticism and skill to get to the regional tournament,” second-year Armadillos coach Mark Kyle said. “Once you get to regional, anything’s possible. But I never thought about us going to state.”

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Trips to state in multiple sports stopped suddenly for HHS Gonzales

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Makia “Kiki” Gonzales claims she knew nothing about the shot put when she began throwing it in the seventh grade.

“I knew nothing except the slide, you know where you move sideways across the ring to throw it,” the Hermleigh senior said. “My coaches tried to get me to try another release like the spin, but I was comfortable with the slide. So we worked on getting lower in the ring so I could use all my strength from my arms and legs when I threw.”

Gonzales blossomed into a 5-foot-11 athlete with plenty of quickness, strength and power — all key ingredients for the shot put. She qualified for the UIL Class 1A State Track and Field Meet in the shot put as a freshman, sophomore and junior — finishing eighth, fourth and fourth, respectively. She threw her best of 39 feet, 7 inches at the 2019 regional meet.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Sweetwater softball was on verge of unlikely breakout season

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

The Sweetwater Lady Mustangs were unlikely candidates for a breakout softball season in 2020.

Sweetwater lost six senior starters from last year’s team that finished 4-4 in District 5-4A and lost to Vernon in bi-district, and the 2020 Lady Mustangs had only one senior in center fielder Blayke Bewley. They also started four freshmen, including their top two pitchers — Elliana Perez and Jenika Fuentes.

But by the time the 2020 season was stopped March 13 by the COVID-19 pandemic, Sweetwater had put together a 13-5 record, gained a No. 25 statewide ranking in Class 4A and was poised to challenge for the District 5-4A title.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Goldthwaite golfers lose chance to defend state title

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Photos by Mike Lee

Rance House was optimistic the solitary environment of high school golf eventually would give the Goldthwaite Eagles a chance to defend their Class 2A boys’ state championship.

“I know the UIL has lawsuits and all that legal stuff to deal with, but I was really pulling for golf,” said House, a Goldthwaite senior who also played baseball in the spring. “Golf is a sport where you don’t have to touch anybody. You use your own club and balls.

“You’re playing in small groups with two or three other people, and there are not a lot of people (spectators) around. There’s just a lot less interaction with other people in golf than in other sports. But I guess if you cancel one sport, you’ve got to cancel them all.”

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Baird’s top-ranked vaulters will have other opportunities

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Baird’s Rylan Rogers and Carsann Baker were the top-ranked pole vaulters in Class 1A through mid-March. Even though both had visions of winning a state championship in May, they figure to have other opportunities after spring sports were canceled this year.

Rogers, a Baird senior, plans to vault collegiately for McMurry’s NCAA Division III track and field program. Baker, a junior, hopes for a normal 2021 track and field season at Baird High School.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Gorman’s Madera never got a chance to long jump this year

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Genaro Madera Jr., better known as Jr. Madera around Gorman, was hoping to win a state championship in the long jump this spring and possibly receive an athletic scholarship offer to a smaller university or junior college.

Even though Gorman is a Class 1A school with a high school enrollment of less than 90 students, the coaching staff had helped seven athletes in the last three years earn college athletic scholarships in football, girls’ basketball, baseball, softball and track.

Madera had finished second at the 2019 UIL State Track & Field Meet in the Class 1A boys’ long jump with a leap of 20 feet, 6.75 inches. But the best jump of his junior season had been well over 21 feet.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: COVID-19 delay may give Brownwood’s McCarty a chance to compete at state

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15 or until the UIL rules that high school athletics statewide may resume. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

A.J. McCarty was already injured and out of action when COVID-19 stopped UIL spring sports on March 10. He’s also one of the few athletes who could actually benefit from a lengthy delay — if spring sports do return for the 2019-2020 school year.

A four-sport athlete for Brownwood, McCarty was late joining the Lions’ track and field team this spring because he was helping the basketball team win 28 games and advance to the second round of the Class 4A playoffs. On March 4 during his first week with the track team, McCarty fell while practicing handoffs for the 4×100-meter relay and suffered a broken wrist.

“We weren’t going full speed, and I ran up on the other guy too quick,” McCarty said. “I got too close to him, and I stepped on his heel. I couldn’t control myself and fell.”

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Anson sophomore Miller was to spearhead young, improving Tiger squad

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15 or until the UIL rules that high school athletics statewide may resume. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Photos courtesy of Daril Gonzales, Anson Tigers Sports Pics

Anson’s Trevor Miller is a sophomore so the suspension of UIL spring sports because of the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t interrupted his final high school season. But baseball is Miller’s only sport so the timing of the stoppage cut just as deep.

“I just play baseball so it’s disappointing. It’s good to have my brother to practice with,” Miller said of his freshman brother, Nick. “He and I throw to each other and take swings. We have a batting cage at home so we can hit in the cage.

“We’re doing all we can to stay in shape and be ready in the hope that we can get back to playing.”

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: For Brock’s Tonips and Kizer, more than a game has been taken away

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15 or until the UIL rules that high school athletics statewide may resume. If you have a suggested story for the “What might have been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Kelsi Tonips missed much of last season and part of this season with a separated shoulder. Then just as the Brock senior third baseman and pitcher was working her way back into the lineup, the 2020 softball season was suspended indefinitely by the UIL because of the COVID-19, or coronavirus, pandemic.

The earliest athletic contests can return is May 4. The spring sports seasons may not restart at all.

“Softball is not just a game for me. It’s a big part of my life that was taken away abruptly,” said Tonips, who has played since she was 6 years old.

At least Tonips, who signed to play collegiately with Tyler Junior College, plans to play softball again. Lauren Kizer, a Brock senior pitcher and outfielder, plans to attend Texas A&M University and major in public health. This was going to be her final season of competitive softball.

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FEATURE: Rotan softball still hoping for a chance to make it to state

Photos courtesy of Greg Decker

The Rotan softball team began the 2020 season looking to complete some unfinished business from last year. Now, the Lady Hammers are just hoping to have a 2020 season.

Rotan was one win away from advancing to the UIL Class 1A state tournament last season, but two one-run losses to Borden County left the Lady Hammers wanting a chance to finish the job this year. They even beat Borden County 7-2 during a tournament earlier this season.

But the spread of COVID-19, or coronavirus, stopped high school sports in Texas — along with a lot of other normal activities — after the first day of Rotan’s softball tournament March 12-14. Now the UIL has said the earliest high school sports could return is May 4, and some are wondering if it’s even possible to resume spring sports at all after losing seven weeks.

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FEATURE: De Leon’s Powledge makes first start, prepping for full mound return

Photos by Madisyn Stone

Even before De Leon pitcher Lane Powledge began putting up gaudy statistics last season, teammate Kevin Yeager knew what was possible.

Yeager — a De Leon senior last year and the school’s best all-around athlete be it in football, basketball, golf or baseball — was set to be the Bearcats’ No. 1 pitcher in 2019. But once he saw how well Powledge, then an unknown sophomore, was throwing, Yeager made a profound statement.

“You’ve got to realize that Kevin (now a college quarterback) was a special athlete. He was in his senior year and ready to be our No. 1 pitcher,” said De Leon head baseball coach Ricky Barrett, the Bearcats’ assistant coach last year.

“Kevin told us we had something special in Lane. He said, ‘Man, Lane is throwing really well. Put me at shortstop and make Lane the No. 1 pitcher, and we can compete with anybody.’”

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FEATURE: Albany’s Hebel picks up where she left off before ACL injury

Photos by Rose Hebel

Albany softball player Elia Hebel has returned and is reportedly as strong as ever after missing the entire 2019 season because of an ACL injury, surgery and six-month rehabilitation process.

She slugged eight hits in nine official at-bats, plus four intentional walks, last weekend while leading the Class 2A Lady Lions to a runner-up finish in the Stephenville Honeybee Classic, which was filled with Class 3A and 4A teams. Veteran Albany coach Jimmy Fuentes said Hebel is batting around .600 during the Lady Lions’ 6-3 start this season.

Also last fall, the 5-foot-10 Hebel committed to play NCAA Division I softball at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette — even though she’s still a junior at Albany High School.

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FEATURE: Gorman softball rebuilds, but the goals don’t change

The Gorman softball team won’t have to carry the burden of an undefeated record into the playoffs this season. The Lady Panthers lost three of four games in last weekend’s season-opening tournament in Abilene.

Gorman won its first 26 games last season before falling to Dodd City in the Region II-1A championship game. It marked the second time in three years for Gorman to fall to Dodd City in the game that determined which team qualified for the UIL Class 1A state tournament.

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FEATURE: Marc Case — A Basketball Love Story … Former McMurry player, Cooper coach has Clyde in playoffs

Marc Case is at it again, taking over a high school basketball team in urgent need of a coach and turning it into a winner.

This time it’s at Clyde — the second season of his second stint as the Bulldogs’ head coach. The passionate, fiery, old-school fundamentals coach who began his career in the 1970s has guided the Bulldogs back into the playoffs with a 19-14 record. Clyde will face Early (also 19-14) in a Class 3A boys’ bidistrict game at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Brownwood Coliseum.

“I always loved playing in the Coliseum,” the seemingly ageless 68-year-old Case said the other day. “I know it’s only five miles for Early to travel and 70 miles for us, but it’s a great place to play with a great atmosphere.”

Some might suggest Tuesday’s game will bring Case’s basketball career full circle, considering he played multiple times in Brownwood Coliseum from 1969-1973 as a McMurry guard going against the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets when both colleges were Lone Star Conference members.

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FEATURE: Stilwell tops 1,500 points for playoff-bound Stephenville

There’s a simple explanation why Skylar Stilwell has topped 1,500 career points as a Stephenville High School senior.

“He loves basketball,” Stephenville coach Bill Brooks said of his third-year starter. “He’s what you call a gym rat. He’s in the gym every day of the offseason and the summer working on his shot. He’s constantly trying to be the best player he can be.

“It’s a big deal when a high school player scores 1,000 points in his career. Skylar passed 1,000 points in one of our last games last year when he was a junior. He has more than 1,500 points now.”

To put 1,500 points in perspective, a player must average 16.6 points per game for three seasons consisting of 30 games each. Stilwell averaged 13 points per game as a sophomore and 17 points per game as a junior last season.

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FEATURE: Westbrook ends 19-year outright district title drought

NOTE: Photos courtesy of Gary Matlock, Sandy Sheets and Kaci Rainbolt

Jake Diggs had to Google the town of Westbrook when was graduating from Texas Tech and looking for a coaching job seven years ago. A native of White Deer in the Texas Panhandle, Diggs was pleased to learn it was only a couple of hours south of Lubbock.

Now in his sixth year as head coach, the 30-year-old Diggs has guided the Class 1A Westbrook High School Wildcats to their first outright district championship in boys’ basketball in 19 years. The Wildcats earned a district co-championship in 2005-2006, but their last outright title came in 2001.

“When I came here, I was a 24-year-old kid and thought I knew it all,” Diggs said. “Winning district has been kind of a relief. It gives you the feeling that what you have been doing is working — that the hard work is starting to pay off.

“We’ve missed the playoffs by one place the last three years. So it’s nice to not only get into the playoffs, but also to do it as the district champs.”

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