Every year, high school sports produces great moments, champions and all the highs and lows that come with the unscripted drama of athletics. This past school year had all those moments and then some as the country emerged from two years of cancellations, disruptions and lost seasons due to the pandemic.
The 2021-22 school year felt tenuous at times, but happily, we've made it to the end with few problems. And as always, the prep athletes continued to dazzle, shine and showcase why high school athletics are not only great, but necessary.
And while there were likely thousands of magical moments from big city schools to small-town America, MaxPreps has zeroed in on 10 that stood above the rest.
Marymount finishes volleyball season for the ages
Los Angeles school dominates national schedule to finish as MaxPreps National ChampionsWhy it matters: Marymount (Los Angeles)
came into the 2021 season knowing the squad was going to be good. But that wasn't enough as head coach Cari Klein lined up a grueling national schedule to push her team led by MaxPreps All-Americans Kerry Keefe
, Torrey Stafford
, Megan Verbiest
and MaxPreps National Player of the Year Elia Rubin
. Marymount left all teams in its wake, going 35-0. The Sailors played a daunting
tournament schedule with victories at the Durango Fall Classic, the Nike
TOC Southwest, the made-for-TV GEICO Volleyball Invitational, a CIF Open Division title and finished as MaxPreps National Champions
Marymount dropped eight sets all season and never faced a five-set
Duncanville crowned first Texas hoops champion since 2010
What: The Texas school grabbed its third straight 6A title and MaxPreps National Championship
Why it matters:
Few postseason tournaments are as grueling as the Lone Star State's playoffs. Duncanville (Texas)
has navigated the 6A bracket for three straight years to win Texas' highest classification, the first since Wheatley from 1968-1970. The Panthers also showed over the course of the season they weren't just the best program in Texas, but the country as David Peavy's bunch finished 35-1 to claim the MaxPreps National Championship
. The Panthers are the first Texas school since Yates in 2010 to finish as No. 1.
Outstanding individual performances
What: Athletes like Gary Martin, Kayleb Walker, Hansel Enmanuel and Jillian Albayati doing great things
Why it matters:
Part of the beauty of sports is the potential for greatness at every event. This school year we've seen some remarkable performances from individuals, including some inspirational ones from disabled athletes. Over the course of the year we've had female pitcher Jillian Albayati
of Anaheim (Anaheim, Calif.)
dominate in baseball, Gary Martin of Archbishop Wood (Warminster, Pa.)
becoming the 14th high schooler to shatter the 4-minute-mile mark and others like Juju Watkins
of Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.)
dazzling in the California Open Division basketball finals. Some, like Brock Porter
of St. Mary's Prep (Orchard Lake, Mich.)
and Keagan Rothrock
of Roncalli (Indianapolis)
, have yet to write their final chapters as baseball and softball wind down. Then there are those extraordinary moments from extraordinary athletes like Kayleb Wagner
of Baker (Fla.)
and Hansel Enmanuel
, who overcome physical limitations to do amazing things. Walker, who was born without a left hand
and part of his forearm, broke Tennessee Titans' running back Derrick Henry's single-game Florida rushing mark. Enmanuel, a senior at Life Christian Academy (Kissimmee, Fla.)
, not only dazzled by winning the dunk contest at the City of Palms
, but continued to show he can flat out ball despite losing his left arm in a childhood accident.
Montverde Academy's basketball dominance
What: Florida school won its sixth GEICO Nationals title, finished No. 1 in National Top 20
Several coaches hit milestones, call it quits
Gary McKnight, J.T. Curtis hit milestones; Steve Smith, Todd Dodge retireWhy it matters:
McKnight, the Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)
basketball coach, eclipsed the 1,200-win plateau
with an 89-53 win over Porterville on Dec. 29. McKnight came to Mater Dei in 1982 and has set a standard of excellence
that includes 33 consecutive league titles and 38 in his 39-year tenure. He also added a MaxPreps National Championship in 2014 behind Player of the Year Stanley Johnson. He became the fourth coach all-time to reach the milestone, joining Steve Smith of Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.)
. And speaking of Smith, he announced his retirement
after 37 seasons at the Virginia school. He ended his career 1,231-99. Another coach, but in a different sport, also reached a milestone when J.T. Curtis won his 600th football game, the second coach to reach that plateau. John Curtis Christian (River Ridge, La.)
beat Archbishop Monroe 37-16
and now the 74-year-old coach trails only John McKissick, who ended with 621 wins. Todd Dodge of Westlake (Austin, Texas) finished his amazing coaching career leading the Chaparrals to three consecutive state titles giving him seven total. He was named the MaxPreps Coach of the Year in 2020 and 2021 making him the only head coach to win it in back-to-back seasons.
Hamilton stuns Bishop Gorman in nationally-televised football game What:
The Huskies scored 18 points in the final 65 seconds to beat the nationally-ranked Gaels 25-24Why it matters: Hamilton (Chandler, Ariz.)
quarterback Nicco Marchiol
and the Huskies' special teams engineered a comeback for the ages over Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
, erasing a 24-7 deficit with 18 unanswered points over the final 65 seconds of the Sept. 17 game. Bruised and bleeding — but refusing to come out — Marchiol led two touchdown drives and the Huskies recovered two onside kicks to keep their hopes alive on the ESPN-televised game.
High school sports return after pandemic shutdowns
What: The 2021-22 school year marked a full return to competition across the country
Why it matters: Let's face it ... the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown of high school sports was rough. While not minimizing the impacts of over 1 million deaths, the shutdown cost athletes a precious year of their high school careers and the time felt empty without sports. Though there was some hiccups and missed games, schedules from fall to winter and through the spring were played from preseason through championships. And we, for one, were elated to have high school sports back and the return of normalcy and tradition.
Mater Dei wins MaxPreps National Championship amid controversy
What: Monarchs finish as No.1 football team as hazing allegations surface
Why it matters:
On the field, there wasn't a better team than Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)
, which finished 12-0 while outscoring its opposition 548-152. The Monarchs won 11 games by at least two scores and the quality of their victories was unparalleled as Bruce Rollinson's bunch handled No. 5 Servite (Anaheim) twice, No. 6 St. John Bosco
(Bellflower), No. 10 Centennial (Corona) and No. 21 Duncanville (Texas). It was the second MaxPreps National Championship in five seasons, duplicating their 2017 wire-to-wire title. Off the field, however, was a different story as the Monarchs played through a hazing scandal while on the way to their CIF Open Division title. The allegations stem from a spring 2021 locker room incident reported on by Southern California media outlets and whose outcome remains unresolved.
NIL — Three letters change the face of sportsWhat:
Name, Image and Likeness money pours into college athletics and trickles down to prep sportsWhy it matters:
The NCAA rule adopted in June 2021 allowed college athletes to be compensated for their promotion and marketing ventures. Quinn Ewers, a Southlake Carroll (Southlake, Texas)
quarterback and No. 1 recruit, left high school early
to enroll at Ohio State in order to take advantage of up to $1 million in NIL money. And while college programs battle over players, some offering large paydays, several states have allowed high school athletes to jump aboard the NIL train. Pittsburg (Calif.)
quarterback and 2023 five-star Jaden Rashada
was believed to be the first prep player to ink an NIL deal
. Where it will lead is anyone's guess. But the game has definitely changed.
Bishop Sycamore football scandal
What: Ohio charter school exposed as fraud during lopsided ESPN game in August against IMG Academy