The three biggest stories of the 2013-14 school year that involved local athletes all had a direct connection to Austin.
Two of them â€” the success of the Highland girls basketball team in late February as well as over a dozen Class 1A, Division II track athletes just this past weekend â€” had to do with great athletic achievement and getting to compete in University Interscholastic League events that were held in Austin.
The UIL, which is located in Austin, also figured very prominently in the other top story â€” its biennual realign-ment on Feb. 3 meant big changes for Sweewater, and also the three area high schools in Nolan County, for the next two school years.
But for the second year in a row, the Highland girls basketball team made the biggest news by advancing to the Class 1A, Division II state tournament. The Lady Hornets, despite consider-able success in recent years, had never gone to state in basketball until making it the last two years under coach Shea Baucom.
Highlandâ€™s best player, senior Sierra Allen, signed a letter of intent in November to play for Abilene Christian University next year.
With that distraction out of the way, Highland â€” ranked No. 1 in the state to start the season â€” won its first 11 games of the year, went undefeated in district for the second straight year and defeated Roby (60-29) and Garden City (51-37) at the Region II-1A, D-II tournament â€” held at Abilene Christian University â€” to earn a trip back to Austin.
But for the second straight year, the Lady Hornetsâ€™ dream of capturing a Class 1A, D-II state championship was dashed in the semifinals as Highland lost to a much smaller but quicker team from Calvert, 53-45, at the Frank Erwin Center.
The previous year, High-land fell to Saltillo in the semifinals when it made its first state appearance. The loss to Calvert ended the high school careers of Allen, a 6-1 post and three-time all-state selection, and fellow starters Beth Richburg and Schyler Kimbrell.
Allen â€” a four-year starter who was also selected as District 13-1Aâ€™s MVP â€” averaged 18 points and seven rebounds a game for Highland, which ended the regular season ranked No. 2 in the state and finished with a 28-4 record. The Lady Hornets have gone 59-9 over the past two years. Sierra Allen, Madison Moseley, Richburg and Hannah Allen were starters on both state teams.
The Lady Hornets hope to make it back to state for a third straight year, though. Three all-district players will return â€” Hannah Allen, Moseley and Sydny Helbert â€” plus district newcomer of the year Kelsi Johns.
Fourteen athletes brought home state track medals at the Class 1A, D-II meet, led by Richburg (three medals), who won the only gold in the girls 100-meter hurdles plus a third-place bronze in the girls 300-meter hurdles, and also a bronze medal on Highlandâ€™s 1600 relay. It was Richburgâ€™s second state medal in the 100 hurdles â€” she was runnerup in 2013 â€” and first in the other two events, though she was a tw0-time state qualifier in all three of the events. Moseley, Hannah Allen and Sierra Allen were the other members of the relay. Ros-coeâ€™s 1600 girls relay of Eva Aguayo, Sunshine Talaman-tez, Lyndi Wilkinson and Whitney Williams won a second-place silver medal, as did two Blackwell boys athletes â€” Jayden Jones in the pole vault and Matthew Lowry in the high jump. The Roscoe 800 girls relay, with the same four runners, won a third-place bronze as did Roscoeâ€™s 1600 boys relay made up of Kevin Lavalais, Braiden Moore, Max Nemir and Shelton Toliver.
It was Jonesâ€™ second state medal in the boys pole vault; he won the event in 2013 with the same 13-6 height as in 2014. Jones will continue his pole vaulting career next year at the collegiate level for Abilene Christian University.
Beginning next school year, Sweetwater will be in District 2-4A, Division II in football and will simply be in District 2-4A in all other sports the next two years.
Sweetwater will be joined in its new football district by Fort Stockton, Lamesa, Greenwood, Monahans and Pecos, while losing Wylie, Big Spring and Snyder. The last two schools, however, will join Sweetwater along with Lamesa, Levelland and Lubbock Estacado to compete in 2-4A (up from 3A) in sports besides football.
Highland and Blackwell will move up to Class 1A in-stead of six-man in football, for renaming purposes only due to the UILâ€™s decision to create a new Class 6A for the biggest schools. Roscoe will be moving to Class 2A instead of 1A, and as stated above, Sweetwater jumps from 3A to 4A.
In football, Sweetwater wonâ€™t face Snyder, Wylie or Big Spring in the playoffs since those schools will be in Class 4A, Division I.
The new two-division set-up will be applied the entire season, not just playoffs, in football only for all four Nolan County schools.
In football, Roscoe will be in District 6-2A, Division II with Bronte, Menard, Miles, Roby and Winters; Highland will be in District 7-1A, D- I with Hermleigh, Ira and Westbrook; and Blackwell is in District 7-1A, D-II with Loraine, Moran and Trent. In basketball, Roscoe will be in 7-2A with Albany, Anson, Hamlin, Haskell, Hawley, Stamford and Win-ters; Highland will be in 12-1A with Borden County, Hermleigh, Ira, Loraine and Westbrook; and Blackwell will be in 14-1A with Bronte, Garden City, Paint Rock, Robert Lee, Sterling City, Veribest and Water Valley.