By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS - A year that started with the introduction of a new foundation in the Harker Heights athletic department ended on a high note thanks to a trio of individual state champions.
Under first-year athletic coordinator and head football coach Mike Mullins, the Knights spring sports teams had banner seasons, including a postseason run for the baseball team and a track and field year that saw the girls team win its second District 12-5A title in three seasons and the trio of seniors Aliese Hyde and Melissa Mays and junior Kyle Thompson all walk away from the Class 5A state meet with gold medals draped around their necks.
The fall seasons weren't as successful, but there were still plenty of positives to build on.
The football team found prosperity in the form of doubling it's previous season win total with a two-game win streak in October along with the running of bruising tailback Kerry Sloan, who practically single-handedly carried the Knights with 1,345 rushing yards on 200-plus carries.
The boys basketball team, which was relatively young with a junior-laden roster, stumbled late in the season with inconsistency - and just three wins over its final eight games - and failed to make the playoffs for the first time in five years. But along with the return of sharpshooting wing Royce O'Neale - who missed the second half of district play with a broken ankle - there is belief the Knights can make a run next season.
After a run at the start of the new year helped the Lady Knights basketball team (15-18, 5-9) nearly double the previous season's 7-26 record, second-year girls coach Shirretha Nelson saw her team fold late with a three-game losing streak to end the year. In volleyball coach Chris Wiley's first season, the Lady Knights (10-20, 3-11) doubled their five-win total from the previous season.
Top 5 memorable performances
1. Gold medal sweep - Qualifying in just three events, the Heights trio of Aliese Hyde (girls 800-meter), Melissa Mays (triple jump) and Kyle Thompson (boys 800-meter) each scored individual gold medals at the Class 5A state track and field meet May 14.
2. Double down - With a gutsy two-point conversion call by first-year football coach Mike Mullins, the Knights edged Temple 29-28 in overtime Oct. 16 for the team's second victory of the season - doubling their win total from the previous two one-win campaigns.
3. Mays day - While helping the Lady Knights to a district-high eight gold medals and second District 12-5A championship in three years, senior Melissa Mays set school records in both the long jump.
4. Post presence - With 21 points from junior post Brandon Bullock, including 12 straight in overtime following a clutch tip-in at the end of regulation, the Knights boys basketball team opened the second half of District 12-5A play with a 68-64 double-overtime upset of A&M Consolidated on Jan. 26.
5. Playoff pitcher - Sean Hansen threw a 123-pitch complete game 3-2 victory over Bryan (16-14) in a win-or-go-home play-in game for District 12-5A's fourth and final playoff spot, as the Knights went on to win six of their final seven games before being swept in two games May 7 by Tyler Lee in the area-round of the Region II-5A playoffs.
Who to watch in 2010-11
Daevon Brown and Royce O'Neale - The Knights basketball team will be leading a senior-laden Heights group as they try to make their way back to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus. O'Neale is also attempting to rebound from a broken ankle he suffered midway through the year.
Kyle Thompson - The rising senior will attempt a rare two-state, gold-medal three-peat as he attempts to win his second gold medal in the 800-meter run after taking home gold with a personal-best time of 1:50.80 at the Class 5A state meet May 14.
Irvin Santamaria - The Knights ace on the diamond and the team's leadoff hitter, Santamaria will be trying to power the Knights back to the playoffs for a second-straight season after a late-year push propelled them to the Region II-5A area round this past season.
Rasheed Dashiell - Already 6-foot-2 and 180-pounds, Dashiell is one of three vying to replace Brandon Bullock - who's been shifted to receiver - as the Knights' signal-caller next season.
Shanice Davis, Jaquan Jackson and Brianna Golden - The youthful Lady Knights trio return along with much of their teammates from a Heights squad that made strides during its second season under coach Shirretha Nelson before crumbling late in the year.