While 2016 had its share of frustrations and heartaches in other walks of life, Northeast Tarrant County accounted for something completely different. Several area teams and individuals brought home state championships.
Other programs experienced deep postseason runs. The area didn’t face too much notable coaching turnover. It was due for a reprieve after what it encountered in 2015. In short, NET celebrated the accomplishments of young men and women who put in the countless hours and endured the struggle. This is the time of year where little else happens except for that potential incredible basketball performance. In this space at this time of year, we present our Top 5 athletics stories for 2016.
1. Grapevine baseball wins Class 5A state championship: There really weren’t any other stories that rivaled what the Mustangs did. A program that ran into more upheaval in 2015 than anything else found a group of young men whose talent and chemistry found a way to tune out the noise. Instead, it brought this community together. Under first-year head coach Steve Hutcherson, the Mustangs broke through so many barriers. For one, this program vanquished four other failed trips to the Region I finals by defeating Lake Dallas. The Mustangs then wiped the slate clean in the state tournament at Dell Diamond in early June. They defeated Whitehouse in the semifinals (7-0) and San Antonio Alamo Heights in the title game (9-2). Armed with a deep pitching staff led by Connor Neuman and Kyle Flamm and deep lineup spearheaded by Joseph Leal, Grapevine finished 35-6.
“I felt the main thing was that this group needed was to be itself,” Hutcherson said. “They didn’t have to impress somebody. We had good players. I just needed to piece together how best this could work. We had 26 guys capable of helping us win a game.”
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2. Justin Northwest’s historic football season: In the seven decades it has played football, Justin Northwest didn’t experience much of anything. It never experienced a season greater than eight wins. It never experienced a postseason win. It only won one district championship. But 2016 changed all that. Coming off a 1-9 2015, the Texans dropped down to Class 5A for 2016. Maybe it was that plus a combination of talented players. Whatever it was, Northwest broke through new thresholds. It went a program-best 10-2 and won its first playoff game when it beat Denton (31-29). Credit new starting quarterback Prince Mavula, wide receiver Gavin Holmes and linebacker Caden McDonald for helping change the culture. While a district championship wasn’t a part of this season, it didn’t take the luster off what was accomplished.
3. Keller girls athletics dominance: When it came to bringing excellence in girls sports, there may not have been a better season put together than what Keller did. In May, Bryan Poehler’s softball team made the program’s Lucky No. 7 state tournament appearance last a lifetime when it captured the Class 6A state championship. Fast forward to the fall, where the girls cross country team led by Abbey Santoro and Julia Black led this program to the 6A state championship. It easily outran second-place Carroll by 40 points (44 to 84). Even more impressive is that every runner from this group is expected to return in 2017.
4. Northwest V.R. Eaton opens in a big way: Any new high school that begins competing at the varsity level is always met with both excitement and apprehension. But the football Eaton Eagles seemed to make a fairly seamless transition after spending the 2015 season at the sub-varsity level. And it’s hard to deny what happened when the football team began its voyage. It defeated another first-year varsity program in Denton Braswell, 55-0. In fact, Eaton gave itself a chance to advance to the Class 5A state playoffs. It lost to White Settlement Brewer in the season finale, 48-14, in a game where the winner clinched a postseason berth.
5. UIL realignment: This area is pretty landlocked. So you’re not going to see a lot of changes. But February served as a reunification. Colleyville Heritage dropped from 6A to 5A and moved back into a district with Grapevine (8-5A) for the first time in two years. Justin Northwest also moved down to 5A (6-5A). The Keller schools went west and were paired with Weatherford, Haltom and Abilene Cooper (3-6A). But the best part was that the University Interscholastic League looked at the Carroll-Euless Trinity rivalry and kept that going (5-6A). Let’s hope that continues as the rivalry is fast becoming one of the best in Tarrant County.
Honorable mentions: Carroll boys swimming captures sixth consecutive state title; Grapevine wrestler Brian Andrew wins a second consecutive state title (this time in the heavyweight division); Carroll tennis capture boys singles and doubles titles; Grapevine and Colleyville voters approve a bond package in May that will lead to the construction of Multi-Activity Centers in 2018. Those facilities will also serve as indoor practice facilities.
Next week, we make our fearless predictions for 2017. We wish you a very Merry Christmas!