Madelyn Wright and the Eaton softball team won district in their first year of varsity competition. Bob Haynes Special to the Star-Telegram
Madelyn Wright and the Eaton softball team won district in their first year of varsity competition. Bob Haynes Special to the Star-Telegram

Keller Citizen

Haslet Eaton shattered first-year varsity expectations

By Kevin Lonnquist

klonnquist@star-telegram.com

May 19, 2017 01:20 PM

There’s no rule that a new high school has to be a pushover in its first year of varsity competition. Haslet Eaton just proved that.

When then-head football coach Brad Turner assembled his coaches before 2016-2017, he set the tone with a phrase.

“Expect to Win!”

That’s easier said than done. However, every Eagles athlete in every sport was challenged to compete to win district championships and reach the postseason.

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For the most part, the inaugural athletic season erased the stereotype of the first-year program. Softball (26-8-1, 11-3) won the District 6-5A championship and advanced to the Region I quarterfinals. Girls soccer (12-7, 10-4) became the first team sport to advance to the playoffs.

The biggest part was the kids could write their own story and believe in the mission of what we wanted to do.

Eaton softball coach Lynn Rottman, on the school’s atypical success in its first year of varsity play

Allyn Tyer finished third in the girls Class 5A pole vault at the state track and field meet earlier this month. Kiyle Delgado placed third in the 102-pound division and Mattison Parker placed third in 119-pound division at the state wrestling meet in February.

Football (3-7, 2-5), volleyball (11-27, 5-9) and baseball (16-16, 6-8) just missed the postseason. Each was in the playoff race in the final week of the regular season.

Eaton experienced all of this without a single senior. Veterans couldn’t show the way to the underclassmen. There was also no tradition. Eaton student-athletes had to create one.

“From my standpoint, my expectations were in place,” said Turner, who has since moved on to become the Northwest ISD’s coordinator for athletics and physical education. “It was something that went throughout the programs. We were going to be successful.”

Several factors played into the school enjoying uncommon athletic achievement. First, it wasn’t drawing too many students from Justin Northwest or Northwest Byron Nelson. Most of them were coming through the Eaton feeder schools. The foundation of playing at Eaton had been established. Conflicting philosophies were not an issue.

Second, athletic facilities were of the most recent design. The baseball field has an artificial surface and is being used as a fallback location when other playoff series are threatened with weather. Finally, the infrastructure was organized from field maintenance to washing uniforms. Turner said financial budgets were supportive.

“The biggest part was the kids could write their own story and believe in the mission of what we wanted to do,” softball coach Lynn Rottman said. “From Day 1, the kids bought in. When you establish that, it’s huge. As long as all of us stayed together, we could be there.”

While football and volleyball missed, Turner believes their performances eliminated the reservation about truly being able to compete. Sometimes, the fall sports can set the tone for the rest of the athletic calendar.

Not everything followed the script. The boys (6-21, 3-11) and girls basketball (11-19, 1-13) programs struggled and were each well out of the postseason race.

Perhaps the stereotype served to Eaton’s advantage. If opponents were not convinced, they learned that during the contest and for the remainder of the season.

In 2017-2018, Eaton coaches and athletes understand they are no longer a secret. They will have expectations from within and afar. The school will enjoy its first senior class.

“The message to my players is that we have to compete no matter what,” Rottman said. “We believed in being competitive. Every ‘W’ we get is going to be earned just like they were this year. We’ll look at the losses and use them as an opportunity to grow. What we did was a result of our student-athletes working hard.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Allyn Tyer’s name in a photo caption.