A year has passed, but not much has changed in the North Texas softball landscape.
Plano again enters the playoffs highly ranked nationally and a favorite to return to Austin to contend for a 5A state title. For its players, Friday’s bi-district opener against Denton Guyer couldn’t come any sooner after last season’s loss in the state semifinals.
“They’re so excited to finally get to the playoffs after such a hard district, finally getting to the playoff part,” Plano coach Cynthia Zea said.
The opening rounds of the playoffs could easily be thought as a brief reprieve from the gauntlet the team faced through district play, which included the area’s other highly ranked team, Plano East.
Plano didn’t run away with a district title this season as it did in 2011. It fell twice to Plano East, surrendering the championship to their cross-town rivals by heads-up tiebreaker. All but two of their District 8-5A competitors finished above .500.
However, there will be little time for Plano to catch its breath, with one of the toughest roads to state ahead of them. Denton Guyer finished third in District 7-5A behind strong competitors Keller and Keller Central.
If Plano pushes on to the area round, it could face ESPN Fab 50 No. 35 Mansfield Legacy, then Fab 50 honorable mention Keller in the third round.
“Our region, the North Texas region, in the last three or four years has really stepped up our game,” Zea said. “It used to be just he Houstons and the Austins. Now, I think softball is so strong that definitely someone from our region is going to Austin to represent us well. We just hope it’s us.”
Plano East has a slightly easier path through the introductory rounds of the playoffs, with District 7-5A runner-up Keller Central not an option until the third round.
In 4A, District 9-4A champion Frisco Wakeland could be a serious threat to make a long district run through a majority of Dallas ISD schools, with third-place finisher Frisco as a challenge in the third round. Wakeland took the season series from Frisco, winning 11-6 and 12-0.
Regardless of the district, what every coach has to deal with is a new set of challenges presented from teams across the state.
“They present a whole different set of challenges, but our girls just have to get up there hit the ball and play good defense and we’ll be fine,” Zea said.