Sophomore running back Zach Henry falls in behind blocker Keyton Lueb (76) on a first-quarter touchdown run.

(This article was corrected to fix a misspelling of an athlete's name)

With the final minutes, downs and outs of the 2017-18 athletic year in the books, we can take a (very) early look at the outlook for UIL team sports at Rockwall-Heath and Rockwall high schools for next season.

The schools will again be part of District 11-6A, which downsizes by one with the loss of John Tyler.  For both Rockwall schools, this will mean more nondistrict games and perhaps a more reliable route to the playoffs, as it will always be theoretically easier to finish in the top four of a seven-team league than to do the same thing in an eight-team league.

In football, JT’s departure is a potential plus for Heath, which was 0-2 vs. the Lions over the past two seasons. Rockwall, on the other hand, was 2-0 vs. John Tyler.

FOOTBALL:  Look for Rockwall to get most of the preseason buzz as a likely playoff team. Division I scholarship offers are piling up for — among other Yellowjackets — senior quarterback Jacob Clark and junior receiver Jaxson Smith.  Coach Rodney Webb lost a large senior class, but coaches with successful programs will lose a large senior class almost every season. Clark and Smith may account for enough early-season scoring to allow the numerous new faces on the RHS defense a break-in period.

Most of Heath’s better-known players last season were seniors, which will add an element of mystery to who will line up where for coach Mickey Moss in the fall. In the Hawks’ two years as a 6A program, Moss’ teams have consistently out-performed preseason expectations and should be regarded as likely to do so again.

VOLLEYBALL:  Rockwall and Heath were a clearly defined top two in District 11 over the past two seasons and there’s little reason to expect dramatic changes. Coaches Maggie Younger (Hawks) and Damon Wilson (Jackets), who both marked their 300th career victories last fall, just seem well ahead of their district rivals from a “program” standpoint.

BOYS BASKETBALL: The most-watched player will be Rockwall’s 6-6 Samuell Williamson, who has made no college commitment and will be one of the most recruited players in Texas until he does. On nights when three-point threat Alec Grandstaff is stretching defenses, the Yellowjackets will be a handful.

The deep senior class that produced a district title for Heath in 2018 is a memory, but coach Brad Waters retains a core of three valuable players in Drake Brown, Kameron Pruitt and Skyler Stutts.

GIRLS BASKETBALL: The last two teams at Heath were perimeter-oriented and revolved around departed guards Morgan Talley and Macy Wilkerson. The next three may well focus on six-footer Logyn McNeil, who had an impressive debut season as a freshman.

Rockwall needs to find some size and a three-point threat to augment rising senior small forward Jordan Mathis, an outstanding defender and capable scorer, and last year’s sophomore guards, Mikki Witcher and Emma Stelzer.

GIRLS SOCCER: It would be hard to find a sport with a brighter outlook as Heath returns several high-impact players from a team that reached the third playoff round and Rockwall made the playoffs with a very young roster led on attack by rising senior Alana Wickham and rising junior Courtney Gober.

BOYS SOCCER: District 11 offers plenty of competition in this sport, as was emphasized in 2018 when both Rockwall ISD schools missed the playoffs. New talent will need to emerge at both Rockwall, where graduation losses were extensive, and Heath, which is coming off back-to-back eighth-place finishes.

SOFTBALL: Rising ninth-grader Elizabeth Schaefer, already committed to Oklahoma State, will certainly be a center of attention when she makes her scheduled debut for Rockwall next spring.

It may not happen immediately, but Schaefer could develop into the top-tier pitcher necessary for any team to compete at an elevated level in Texas, one of the country’s best states for high school softball.  

Last season was a rebuilding year for Heath, but did produce a playoff berth and a third-place finish in District 11, which hasn’t been a particularly strong softball league. Only Rockwall has won a playoff series over the past two seasons.

BASEBALL: Both Rockwall and Heath were surprisingly bounced out in the first round of this spring’s playoffs and will be replacing numerous long-term starters, including senior-year transfers Anderson Needham and Nolen Hester, two Division I signees who were a big part of the Hawks’ district title campaign this spring.

Having a few more like them move into the county would be welcome news for coaches Greg Harvey at Heath and Jeff Payne at RHS.

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