By Michael Sudhalter
But the Panthers – in just their fourth varsity season – managed to exceed last year’s benchmark by two rounds.
Ridge Point reached the Class 5A-Division I State Semifinals, losing to eventual state champion, Cedar Park, 38-17.
That is why Ridge Football’s remarkable playoff run is The Star’s No. 1 Sports Story in 2015.
They had the opportunity to play three games at NRG Stadium – where they had a 2-1 record – better than that of the team’s primary tenant, the Houston Texans.
Ridge Point will face new challenges in 2016, as they prepare to make the leap to the 6A level, but they’ll return 12 starters, including 5A-23 Co-MVP BJ Rainford, who scored 32 touchdowns this season.
2. MARSHALL BOYS WIN 5A STATE TRACK
After finishing two points away from a state title in 2014, Marshall bounced back this spring to win the 5A State Championship in Austin.
Kendall Sheffield, now a freshman football player at the University of Alabama, won the 110 meter hurdles in 13.42 seconds, and sophomore Shamon Ehiemua and senior Gerald Mills took first and second, respectively, in the 200 meter dash was taken by the Marshall. The Buffaloes also won the 4×200 and 4×400 relays.
Buffaloes head coach Lloyd Banks was later honored as Texas High School Track & Field Coach of the Year, for leading the Buffaloes to a state record 90 points in the state championship meet.
3. DOMINANT VOLLEYBALL PERFORMANCES
Austin High and Fort Bend Christian Academy are separated by just 5.7 miles, but the two Sugar Land-based schools dominated their respective volleyball divisions this season.
Both the Bulldogs (UIL Class 6A) and Eagles (TAPPS Division 4A) finished second at state.
Austin had never advanced to the state tournament before, but the Bulldogs – led by honorable mention All-American Paige Swinney – not only reached the state semifinals, but defeated Conroe Oak Ridge.
They lost to Lewisville Hebron in the state title match to finish with a 46-3 record for the best season in the history of Fort Bend ISD Volleyball.
Fort Bend Christian (17-4) has regularly made trips to the TAPPS State Tournament. The Eagles edged San Antonio Holy Cross, 3-2, in the semifinals, before falling to Trinity Lubbock Christian, 3-2, in the finals.
4. RIDGE POINT SOFTBALL’S STATE APPEARANCE
Every team has its nemesis. The Jordan-era Bulls had the Pistons. The Texans had the Colts.
Ridge Point Softball was awesome in 2015, but it appeared as if 5A-23 champion/rival Santa Fe would stand in their way of reaching the state tournament for the first time in school history.
The Indians swept the Panthers in the regular season.
But Ridge Point freshman pitcher Makinzy Herzog, a Florida State commit, and the Panthers had other ideas.
Ridge Point defeated Santa Fe in three games and advanced to the 5A State Tournament where they fell to eventual state champion, Aledo, 8-7, in the state semifinals.
5. SKEETERS CONTINUE TO BUILD ON POPULARITY
The Sugar Land Skeeters didn’t perform well on the field in 2015, but they hit it out of the park when it came to fan satisfaction and overall popularity.
Bob & Marcie Zlotnik introduced upgrades and improvements in all facets of the franchise during their first season of ownership.
The Skeeters surveyed fans and found fan satisfaction statistics to be in the high 90s.
And in true Skeeters fashion, the team made a big-splash signing when retired MLB slugger Rafael Palmeiro signed a three-day contract and had an opportunity to team with his son, Patrick, for the final regular season series, in September.
6. UNDEFEATED REGULAR SEASONS
Having a winning record or making the playoffs in high school football is an achievement, but going undefeated is something even more special.
Both Hightower (6A) and Stafford (4A) went 10-0 during the regular season, defeating opponents in impressive form.
Hightower repeated as 6A-23 Champions and extended its regular season winning streak to 17 games, before losing to Friendswood in the first round of the playoffs.
Stafford earned its first undefeated regular season in school history and cruised past Houston Sterling in the first round of the playoffs. They lost to perennial state power, Carthage, in the second round.
7. ELKINS BOYS BASKETBALL
The Elkins High boys basketball team opened the 2015-16 season with a 16-1 record and tournament championships in Fort Bend ISD and Clear Creek ISD, respectively.
After losing 51-50 to 5A runner-up Beaumont Ozen in the first round of the 2014-15 playoffs, the senior-dominated Knights have a good chance to make some noise in the playoffs this winter.
8. NBA DRAFT PROSPECTS
It’s rare for a school district to have a former player drafted in the NBA, but Fort Bend ISD had two last year.
Kelly Oubre, a former Bush High standout who graduated from a high school in Nevada, was drafted 15th overall (first round) by the Atlanta Hawks. He was later traded to the Washington Wizards where he is currently a starter.
Andrew Harrison, a Travis High graduate who led the Tigers to a 6A State Championship and helped lead Kentucky to two Final Fours, was drafted in the second round (44th overall) by the Phoenix Suns and later traded to the Memphis Grizzlies.
The 21-year-old Harrison is currently playing in the NBA Development League for the Iowa Energy, with a good chance to reach the NBA.
His twin brother, Aaron – a fellow Travis graduate – signed a free agent contract with the Charlotte Hornets and currently plays for them.
9. DULLES FOOTBALL’S TURNAROUND
The Dulles High football team snapped a 13-game losing streak when it defeated Houston North Forest, 34-26, in August.
The Vikings, who went 0-10 in 2014, finished a respectable 5-5 and missed the 6A playoffs by one game.
Junior quarterback Luke Metzer passed for a Fort Bend ISD-record eight touchdowns in a 69-34 win over Kempner.
The future is uncertain for the Vikings, who will have their third coach in four seasons with Oschlor Flemming leaving to start the new football program at Fulshear High.
Metzer returns at quarterback, and the Vikings could be moving to 5A.
10. COLLEGE GRIDIRON SUCCESS
Several Fort Bend ISD graduates continue to enjoy success at the college football level.
Texas A&M teammates Mikey Matthews (Elkins) and Taylor Martinez (Travis) will compete in the Music City Bowl today against Louisville, while 13 FBISD graduates are on the University of Houston football roster.
The Cougars will face Florida State in the Peach Bowl tomorrow morning.
And Dulles graduate Maurice Smith will compete for Alabama on Saturday in Arlington as the Crimson Tide face Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl (national semifinals).