2020 was an eventful year for Princeton athletics. With schools across Texas trying to react to the coronavirus pandemic, the district saw several of their sports end prematurely, some before they even started, while others saw games canceled. PHS sports experienced a plethora of highs and lows this season, from seeing members of the wrestling and powerlifting teams qualify for state championships to seeing fall sports delayed a month. Here is a look back at how Princeton sports fared in 2020.
Spring Sports- Baseball/Softball/Track and Field
During Princeton’s spring break, the first domino of the coronavirus pandemic started to unfold, as many UIL athletic events across Texas were canceled. Originally only a two week delay, the growing pandemic ended up forcing the cancellation of entire spring sporting seasons across the state, including Princeton. Additionally, many winter sports at Princeton, including boys and girls soccer, powerlifting and wrestling, ended their seasons abruptly because of the pandemic.
In 2020, the Princeton softball team experienced change at the top of the program, with coach Rhana Ramos leaving at the end of the season. In her third season as softball coach, Ramos led the Lady Panthers to a 5-12 pre-district record before the season was shut down.
In the opening week of the 2020 season, the Lady Panthers took home a trophy in the Carrollton Tournament of Champions, held Thursday, Feb. 20 to Saturday, Feb. 22, beating Andrews 4-2 in the consolation finale. Other tournaments Princeton participated in included the Feb. 27-29 Denton tournament, where they finished 0-6, and a three-day event, March 5-7, at Lindsay, where the Lady Panthers finished 3-2.
Taking over for Ramos is Tye Wilkerson, who served as the assistant softball coach for Frisco Liberty last season. Entering his 11th year of coaching, Wilkerson enters the job with an overall coaching record of 85-44-5, including trips to the playoffs for all seven years he has served as head coach.
Princeton’s baseball team were able to get through 12 games last season, including their district opener against Sherman. Entering this district slate, the Panthers held a 2-8-2 record, including a 8-3 loss to the Bearcats in their final game of the season. Victories for Princeton were against Berkner, who they beat 14-4, and Red Oak, who they defeated in a tournament 6-5.
Seniors who graduated from the program in May include pitcher Reese Weeks and catcher Zac Dotson. Being such a young team, the Panthers have a bunch of depth returning for their 2021 team, including shortstop Andrew Loera and outfielder Cooper Kulwicki. The Panthers’ district this season now includes eight members, adding The Colony and newly built Rock Hill alongside regular rivals Lovejoy, McKinney North, Denison, Sherman, and Wylie East.
The Princeton track teams were able to compete in three track events before their season was shut down: the Frisco ISD Invitational on Feb. 22, the Cotton Ford Relays on Feb. 27, and the Bobcat Relays on Mar. 6.
The highest finishes for both teams occurred in the Bobcat Relays, as the boys and girls each finished second behind host-team Celina. The Panthers finished sixth and Lady Panthers were last at the Frisco ISD invitational. The Lady Panthers finished second and Panthers were third at the Cotton Ford Relays.
Ehijie Iloube recorded three first-place finishes this year: winning at Celina in the 100 meters (11.47), the triple jump (43-00), and the long jump (22-03.50) while also finishing first in the long jump at Frisco ISD (27-07.50).
Other first place finishes for Princeton include Devin Smith in the 200 (23.46) at Celina, Cory Owens in the discus (119-09) at Celina, Lilly Rodriguez in the 100 (12.63) at Celina, Demayia Peoples in the 200 (27.54) at Celina, Princeton’s 400 relay team (50.84) at Celina, Kaylee Dixon in the shot put (33-02.00) at Celina, Gracee Nocktonick in the pole vault (8-00) at Celina, Nate Prentice in 110 hurdles (16.93) at the Cotton Ford Relays and Gavin Champ in triple jump (44-05.50) at the Cotton Ford Relays.
For Princeton, powerlifting was one of the first sports affected by the coronavirus cancellations, with the girls state meet canceled for the season.
With the cancellation, Princeton’s Natalie Walker and Kamryn Gardner were unable to compete for a state title, which was originally scheduled March 21 at the Extraco Events Center in Waco, after qualifying at the Region 6 Div. 1 girls powerlifting meet. The regional meet occurred Tuesday, Mar. 3, at Prosper High School.
At the meet, Walker finished first in the 114-pound weight class with a total lifted of 885 pounds. Gardner, competing in the 165-pound weight class, finished fifth with a total weight lifted of 825 pounds. For her efforts, Walker was named the Most Outstanding Lightweight Lifter and set three regional records.
As a team, the Lady Panthers finished seventh among competitors, with Wylie earning first place. Cedar Hill and Wylie East were the other two teams to earn team titles. Other competitors who helped the team earn points include Sydney Bazan, who placed fifth in the 181-pound class with 800 total pounds, and Deysey Fuentes, who finished fifth in the 259-pound class with 910 pounds lifted.
On the boys side, Princeton’s Andrew Bailey just missed qualifying for the state powerlifting meet. The sophomore just missed the qualifying total in the 242-pound weight class in Region 6 Div. 1 on March 7 at Keller Central high School. Bailey set personal records in the squat at 550 and bench at 370. Bailey came up short after failing to deadlift 580 for the needed qualifying total of 1,500 pounds.
In their first season with a new head coach, the Lady Panthers were unable to change their tide.
With Carla Denning as head coach, Princeton finished the season at 17-15, including a 2-8 among district rivals, earning them fifth place in 10-5A.
McKinney North and Wylie East earned co-champions at 8-2, with Wylie East earning the first seed based on a coin flip. Denison earned third place with a 7-3 and taking fourth was 5-5 Lovejoy. Sherman finished in dead last at 0-10.
The lone district wins for the Lady Panthers were both over the Sherman Bobcats, including a 40-point home victory Tuesday, Jan. 28. Other big victories for Princeton include a 16-point win over McKinney Boyd and a 49-point victory over Valley View.
Four Lady Panthers graduated from the program in May: Brooke Veal, Lilly Rodriguez, Amanda Peters and Kendra Gillespie.
To start their 2020-21 campaign, the Lady Panthers have seen things turn around. In Denning’s second season as head coach, Princeton finished their pre-district campaign with a perfect 11-0 record, including wins over Aubrey and Melissa. Alongside their other district rivals, Princeton’s district features two new members: The Colony and newly built Prosper Rock Hill.
The Lady Panthers sport a lot of depth this season, with a plethora of returning players providing big contributions for Princeton, including junior Kaitlyn McKenna, senior Payton Aungst, senior Bria Dillard, junior Raylee Cave, senior Kayla Fuller and junior Makenna Walker.
After a successful pre-district run in 2019, the Panthers finished their district campaign with a playoff berth, earning a spot in the Class 5A Region II basketball playoffs.
Princeton was the top seed out of 10-5A at 9-1, with their lone district loss occurring against Lovejoy in their second district outing. The Panthers finished two games ahead of second place McKinney North, who went 7-3 in district competition. Lovejoy and Wylie East were the final two teams to make the playoffs, both going 5-5 in district. In the bottom half of the district were 2-8 Sherman and Denison 1-9.
Princeton finished the 2019-20 season 24-6 overall, with pre-district wins over Lake Dallas, Aubrey and Nolan Catholic.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Panthers faced off against the Frisco Racoons in the bi-district round. A slow start to the game offensively would cost Princeton’s hopes of a long playoff push, losing to the Racoons 53-42.
With a very veteran group, the Panthers graduated several seniors in May, including Vernoris Hickerson, Antwone Owens, Cameron Crane and Tre McGrue. Headlining the 2020 returning class are Caedon Ayling, Anthony Alba, Gene Robinson, Josiah Crockett, Isaiah Sadler and Torijuan Burns.
It was a storybook ending to the 2020 wrestling season for a pair of Princeton seniors.
Riley Morrison and Dacarius Cook brought home medals during the Class 5A state tournament Feb. 21-22.
In her third straight trip to the Berry Center, Morrison earned a third state medal. This time around she was third in the 95-pound weight class after beating Canyon Randall’s Avery Stout by a 3-1 decision.
Morrison closed out her senior season with a record of 41-5 in duals and tournaments combined, and over three years went 129-9.
In his second straight trip to state, Cook wrestled to fourth within 285-pound class, following a loss to William Bennett of Fort Worth Boswell. He made it to the final match after beating Leander Rouse’s Aiden Butler by a 14-8 decision.
With the fourth place finish he was the first boys wrestler to make it to the medal podium in program history.
Also competing in state for Princeton were Cain Brentnall on the boys side, and Emily Flatt and Emma Lozado on the girls side.
As a team, the Panthers finished tied for 31st with Melissa, with Canyon Randall earning first place, Midlothian and Carrollton Creekview earned second and third respectively.
The Lady Panthers finished 24th. El Paso Eastwood finished first, with El Paso Hanks and Amarillo Caprock also winning team championships.
While unable to finish the season, the Princeton girls soccer team clinched a second straight spot in the Class 5A Region II playoffs.
Before the season was shut down, the Lady Panthers were 15-5 overall and 4-4 for fourth place in 10-5A. Above them in the standings were Wylie East, who held a 7-1 record, Lovejoy and McKinney North, who were both tied for second at 6-2. Denison and Sherman were sitting at the bottom of the district standings, going 1-7 and 0-7-1 in district, respectively.
Big wins for the Lady Panthers include a 6-2 win over Crandall on the road, a 6-1 victory over Sherman and a 2-0 victory on the road against Denison that ended their season.
Seniors who graduated from the team in 2020 include goalkeeper Gaby Rivera, forward Stefany Crosby, midfielder Javana Hernandez and defender Pam Romas. Key returning players for the Lady Panthers include midfielder Amaris Jasso and defender Emily McCarthy.
Another team that saw their season end prematurely, the Princeton boys soccer team missed the last two games of their season. Sporting a very young group, the Panthers would often feature freshman and sophomores on last year’s team, trying to gain momentum for their next season.
By the time the season was canceled, the Panthers had a 4-14-3 overall, including a fifth-place spot in their district with a 1-7 record. Their lone win occurred right before being canceled, winning 4-0 against Denison on their senior night Tuesday, Mar. 3.
Leading the way in Princeton’s district were the Lovejoy Leopards, who held a 6-1-1 record by the abrupt season end. McKinney North held the second-place finish in the district, going 6-2, while Sherman was in third place with a 5-2-1 record. Wylie East rounded out the playoff teams, holding the fourth-place spot with a 4-4 record. Denison was last at 0-7-1.
Princeton football experienced a lot of dramatic change during the 2020 season.
Alongside a shift in their district due to UIL realignment, with Frisco Reedy and Braswell being replaced by Rock Hill and Frisco Liberty, the Panthers started at an unusual time, as the season’s opener was delayed a month due to being unable to practice during the summer.
Once they started the season, the Panthers were unable to gain the momentum necessary to push for a playoff spot. Through the first four games of the season, Princeton held a 2-2 record, including a homecoming come-from-behind victory over Rock Hill. Heading into a winnable game against Frisco Memorial, the Panthers saw the next three games of their season canceled, losing matchups against Memorial, Lake Dallas and Frisco.
When they returned, the Panthers were unable to capture their early season form, especially on the offensive end, losing their last three games to fall to 2-5 on the season, earning the fifth-place spot in the district. Coach Clint Surratt resigned from his position after four years on the job, accruing an overall record of 14-25. Ervin Chandler, who spent the last two years as the head coach for Blooming Grove, was hired as Surratt’s replacement.
After finishing just outside the postseason with a 11-9 record, the Princeton volleyball team failed to reach the expectations their veteran class built for them.
Entering the season with a strong group of upperclassmen, the Lady Panthers had a good shot of clinching another playoff spot. After struggling through early parts of the season because of COVID, Princeton finished the regular season tied for fourth place, losing the tiebreaker game to Wylie East in five sets. The Lady Panthers had a season of highs and lows, including taking a set from eventual state champ Lovejoy.
Seniors Brianna Barch and Julie Milligan earned the top all-district honors for Princeton this year. Serving as the team’s middle blocker this season, Barch was a defensive nightmare at the net for the Lady Panthers, earning blocker of the year recognition for the district. Milligan had another exceptional season for the Lady Panthers as the team’s ultimate weapon, finishing as a first team all-district selection.
Senior libero Kami Malouf and senior setter Gracee Nocktonick provided big contributions for Princeton’s success this season, earning appearances on the second team all-district team. All-district honorable mentions went to senior defensive specialist Summer Starr, senior outside hitter Ella Baird and sophomore outside hitter Rachel Sadler.
In addition to their work on the field, several Lady Panthers earned honors in the classroom on the academic all-district team, including Barch, Milligan, Malouf, Starr, Baird, Nocktonick, Sadler, Amaya Malhas and Brooklyn Purcella.
Coach Brian Cottongame and the Panthers team had an up-and-down year this season in their fall competition, finishing their year with a 2-4 overall record. Wins for the Panthers include a 13-6 win over Denison on Sept. 15 and a 14-5 victory over The Colony on Sept. 29. Princeton struggled in each of their road contests, losing all four by a combined score of 18-58.
Princeton cross country finished their season in the district meet held at Myers park in McKinney.
Both teams had runners in the top-25, though no runners were able to qualify for the regional meet.
As a team, the girls side finished sixth overall in competition. Leading the way for the Lady Panthers was junior Aubrey Leverton, who finished 16th overall with a 21:06 run. Freshman Elham Hussein was the next Princeton runner to cross the finish line, ending her day in 29th place with a 22:19 run. Next in line for Princeton was sophomore Amaya Malhas, who finished in 36th place with a 23:11 run. Malhas improved her time from Denton by 15 seconds.
Junior Ashlyn Frank and senior Bria Dillard finished right behind Malhas, earning 38th and 39th place respectively. Frank ran at a 23:20 pace, while Dillard finished with a 23:30 run. Sophomore Karen Gaytan finished with a 23:55 run which earned her 43rd place. Cadence Smith was the final Lady Panther to run, finishing in 44th place with a 24 minute run.
On the other end, the varsity boys side also finished in sixth place in competition. Sophomore Daniel Maya-Gomez led the way for the Panthers, running at a 18:45 pace, which earned him 24th place. Sophomore Bryan Martinez finished just behind Maya-Gomez, ending in 27th place with a 18:54 run. Senior Fernando Garcia rounded out his day as the third Panther to finish, earning 36th after a 19:48 run.
Freshman Jose Gurrola was the next Panther to cross the finish line, running at a 20:37 pace, which earned him 47th. Sophomore Luis Cerda and senior Brandon Lee earned 52nd and 53rd place respectively. Cerda ended with a 22:30 three-mile run, while Lee ran at a 23:04 pace.
By Jackson King * [email protected]