The Year of the Wildcat

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  /DRC/David Minton
Head coach John Walsh, center, led Guyer to the Class 4A Division I state title with a 48-37 win over Georgetown at Arlington’s Cowboys Stadium. It was the Wildcats’ first title and the DRC story of the year.

Looking back at a great year in Denton-area sports

It was another banner year in sports in the Denton area.

Johnny Jones, arguably the most high-profile coach of the most successful sport at North Texas, left for LSU, forcing the Mean Green to replace both its men’s and women’s basketball coaches at the same time.

The area had its highest pick in baseball’s first-year player draft in recent history as Argyle’s Austin Aune was selected in the second round by the New York Yankees of the American League.

Argyle also won a state title as the boys basketball team went to Austin as underdogs on paper and came away champions.

But no story was bigger in the area than the Guyer football team’s march to its first state championship after three close calls recently, including a loss in the 2010 Class 5A Division II title game.

The Wildcats overcame a 16-point, third-quarter deficit to top Georgetown 48-37 in the Class 4A Division I championship game Dec. 22 as they finally broke through and won a title, giving the Denton school district its third state championship in football.

The Wildcats’ journey to the state championship was an obvious choice for the year’s top story, as chosen by the staff of the Denton Record-Chronicle.

After entering the 2012 season as the state’s preseason No. 1 in The Associated Press’ Class 4A poll, the Wildcats dropped their first two games to Class 5A powers, including a season-opening loss to Cedar Hill, which lost in the 5A Division II title game last week.

But after the second game of the season, the Wildcats went on a 14-game winning streak that culminated in head coach John Walsh accepting the state championship trophy at midfield of Arlington’s Cowboys Stadium — his first as a coach, in any capacity.

“Looking back on [the entire season], it unfolded perfectly,” Walsh said. “You do want the respect across the state and to be recognized [in the preseason]. To get slapped in the face pretty good in the second halves of those two games [against Cedar Hill and Colleyville Heritage] really made us dig down deep and find out what we needed to do to be where we needed to be.”

There were many stars for the Wildcats throughout their season and their playoff run, which saw them knock off three-time 4A Division II champion Aledo and win a thriller over an athletic Tyler John Tyler team.

Ellis Jefferson, an Arizona State pledge, overcame a quiet regular season to explode in the playoffs and have the best game of his career in the state championship game — the final game of his high school career.

Senior Terence Belton made the most of his one year as Guyer’s starting middle linebacker and helped lead a defense that, at times this season, was a maligned unit by making game-clinching interceptions in the state semifinal and the championship game.

But no player’s star shined brighter than that of junior quarterback Jerrod Heard.

The Texas pledge saved the best two games of his season for the last two. He put the Wildcats on his back in the state championship game with three third-quarter touchdown runs to complete a second-half rally against Georgetown.

Heard rushed for 143 yards and five touchdowns in the state final while throwing for 189 yards and two more scores — both to Jefferson. In the previous game against John Tyler, he rushed for more than 300 yards.

It was a big-time performance by Heard, whom Walsh refers to as one of his “money players.”

“When you’re supposed to be one of the best players in the state of Texas, there’s moments and games that prove that along the way,” Walsh said. “And in the last game of his junior year, he had his moment. He raised his level of play and leadership, and in doing so it raised our program to a different level.”

ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872. His e-mail address is aboedeker@dentonrc.com.

 

 

No. 2: Johnny Jones leaves for LSU

After 11 seasons as North Texas’ head men’s basketball coach, Johnny Jones, the architect of one of the biggest turnarounds in the history of Mean Green athletics, left the school to take over in the same capacity at LSU. Jones took over a program that had won just 20 games in the four seasons before he arrived for the 2001-02 campaign and quickly turned it into one of the most successful and consistent teams at UNT. Jones led the Mean Green to the 2007 and 2010 NCAA tournaments and five 20-win seasons. He also landed Tony Mitchell, who is widely considered a top NBA talent.

No. 3: Argyle wins boys state title

When the Argyle boys basketball team went to Austin for the state tournament, it was not out of the question that it could come home a winner. But it was far from a sure thing. In the semifinals, Argyle drew 2010 state champion and state tournament veteran Lubbock Estacado, dispatching of the Matadors by slowing the game’s pace en route to a 41-34 win. Two days later, the Eagles hoisted the state championship trophy with a 44-33 win over Corpus Christi Miller. Argyle was led by senior Clarke Overlander’s 14 points and 10 rebounds, which earned him championship game MVP honors.

No. 4: UNT replaces two in hoops

North Texas underwent one of the more dramatic changes in program history in 2012, when the school replaced both its men’s and women’s basketball coaches. Johnny Jones left after 11 seasons to take over at LSU and was replaced by former Marquette assistant Tony Benford. Karen Aston stayed just one season at UNT after taking over for Shanice Stephens before leaving for Texas, where she previously had worked as an assistant coach. UNT hired former Wake Forest head coach Mike Petersen to become the school’s third coach in three seasons in women’s basketball.

No. 5: Yankees draft Argyle’s Aune

When Austin Aune graduated from Argyle, he packed up and left for TCU, where he was planning on playing baseball and football. Then things changed. Aune was drafted with the 89th pick by the New York Yankees in baseball’s first-year player draft. The shortstop was coming off a year in which he led Argyle to the Class 3A Division II football state championship game and helped the baseball team reach the 3A regional finals. Aune is the most notable area draftee since Ryan alum and current Detroit Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson was drafted by the Yankees in 2005.

No. 6: UNT falls in Sun Belt final

North Texas appeared as if it was on its way to the NCAA tournament when it advanced to the final of the Sun Belt Conference tournament and grabbed a 13-point second-half lead over Western Kentucky. The game quickly got away from UNT from there as the Hilltoppers rallied for a 74-70 win. Kahlil McDonald hit a 3-pointer in the closing minutes to put WKU up for good at 70-68 after UNT nearly grabbed a loose ball while leading by one. Tony Mitchell scored 18 points to lead four UNT players who finished in double figures.

No. 7: Ryan boys advance to state

There probably wasn’t anyone in Texas who thought the Ryan boys basketball team was going to make the Class 4A state tournament. But there the Raiders were, defeating the likes of Fort Worth Arlington Heights, The Colony and Fort Worth Trimble Tech to advance to state for the first time since they won the 4A title in 2000. Ryan was the only team in the state tournament with at least 10 losses. Behind the efforts of Trey Mohair, who sank a coast-to-coast, buzzer-beating layup to defeat Trimble Tech in the regional tournament, Ryan made it to Austin and lost to Houston Yates in the state semis.

No. 8: Argyle advances to state

Argyle’s volleyball team hit stumbling blocks in the past that prevented it from reaching the state tournament, before breaking through this fall. Setter Blair O’Brien finished her career with the most assists in Texas history and the fourth-most in U.S. history. The Lady Eagles pushed past the likes of Melissa and Spring Hill before facing Abilene Wylie in the state semifinals. Argyle mounted a ferocious comeback from two sets down but lost to Wylie in a five-set thriller. Argyle reached state for the first time in school history behind O’Brien, Sierra James, Brooke Robertson and Katy Keenan. 

No. 9: Krum makes playoffs

Krum entered its first year of University Interscholastic League football play with little to no expectations. Krum was picked to finish last in District 9-3A by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football and had never played a district game. Krum was going to experience for the first time what it was like to fight for a playoff berth. Ten games later, the Bobcats experienced what it was like to play in a playoff game. Krum surpassed all expectations, finished the regular season with a 9-1 record and lost to Celina in the first round of the playoffs, making an indelible mark on the area’s football scene in the process.

No. 10: UNT makes 2 NCAA tourneys

North Texas had a banner year in women’s athletics in 2012, when the school sent two teams to NCAA tournaments. The UNT tennis team hosted the Sun Belt Conference tournament and won it, beating Florida International 4-2 in the finals. The UNT soccer team also made the NCAA tournament by winning the Sun Belt tournament with a 1-0 victory in the final, also over FIU. Amber Haggerty scored the lone goal in the final and UNT’s stout defense held the Golden Panthers scoreless. UNT won all three of its SBC tournament games 1-0 behind goalie Jackie Kerestine.

 

Honorable mention

There were several other stories that didn’t quite make the cut for the top 10. Here is a look at the best of the rest:

— Kevin Atkinson takes over as Denton’s head football coach

— Mario Edwards ranked No. 1 recruit in the country by ESPN, signs with Florida State

— TWU makes regional tournament in softball

— Calvary wins state title in volleyball


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