Forgettable certainly doesn’t describe the prep sports season around Aurora in 2019.
Significant team and individual state championships and the continual emergence of superstars that cement the city’s outstanding athletic reputation locally and nationally made the year one of the most memorable on record.
The following is a look back at some of the most notables stories, figures and accomplishments in Aurora preps in 2019:
Rangeview boys hoops team wins first state title in 34 years, first for APS since 1998
The Rangeview boys basketball team won the Class 5A state championship with a 61-47 victory over Chaparral on March 9 at the Denver Coliseum and coach Shawn Palmer’s program broke a number of streaks in the process.
The Raiders snapped a 34-year drought since the school’s other state hoops title back in the 1984-85 season and they won the school’s first state team title since girls soccer in 1994. Additionally, Rangeview became the first Aurora Public Schools team state champion in any sport since Hinkley boys basketball in 1998.
In the final, the Raiders’ tremendous chemistry and depth came through as reserves Obi Agbim, Isaiah Hayes and Kamren Stroter helped them build a halftime lead over the top-seeded Wolverines and then junior Christopher Speller finished it off from the free throw line, as he went 15-for-19 from the line on his way to 17 points.
“This means everything, for our school it is big,” Stroter said. “We came into the season and everybody thought we were underdogs and weren’t going to make it all the way. But the community wanted us to take it all and we knew we had the support to take this dub and win the state championship.”
Rangeview’s victory extended Aurora’s reign of dominance in 5A boys basketball to five seasons, as it followed victories by Grandview (2018), Eaglecrest (2017) and Overland (2016 and 2015).
Dunking phenom Fran Belibi caps fantastic prep career with tons of accolades
Fran Belibi’s meteoric rise in the game of basketball in a short time ended with an epic senior season at Regis Jesuit that was jam-packed.
Belibi signed with Stanford University early in the school year, then played as well as ever during the regular season — throwing in a few of the jaw-dropping dunks that brought her national attention — and helped the Raiders make it to the Class 5A semifinals before a loss to Grandview.
Belibi — who also connected with teammate Avery VanSickle on an alley-up dunk that went viral — brought home Colorado’s Gatorade Player of the Year award, became Aurora’s second McDonald’s All-American selection and then earned headlines when she won the POWERADE JamFest dunk contest in the festivities surrounding the All-American game in Atlanta.
After she graduated from Regis Jesuit in May, Belibi made the USA Basketball’s U19 team that traveled to Bangkok, Thailand, and won the gold medal in the 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup and in September she was honored by ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 with a permanent installation at the Aurora Sports Park.
Smoky Hill’s Valerie Negin brings home rare No. 1 singles state tennis championship
It had been 32 years since Smoky Hill had a girls state tennis championship and 26 years since any girls player from an Aurora program had won a No. 1 singles crown, but Valerie Negin took care of snapping both of those streaks May 11.
In a state tournament shortened to two days by rain, Negin downed Fairview’s Sophie Pearson 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 on Center Court at Gates Tennis Center to become the Buffs’ first state tennis champion since Patti Urban capped a three-year run in 1987.
Negin also became the first No. 1 singles winner from a city program since Overland’s Emily Severance in 1993.
To do so, she had to overcome a severely twisted foot suffered in a second round match against Cherry Creek’s Eliza Hill. Negin gutted through the rest of the match to win, then took three-setters in the semifinals and finals.
Regis Jesuit’s Segura stuns three-time state mat champ
Regis Jesuit’s Antonio Segura created the buzz of the entire Class 5A state wrestling tournament in February with his upset of Pomona star Theorius Robison on his way to winning his first state championship.
With an overtime win in the semifinals at the Pepsi Center over Robison — who was in search of a fourth career state title — Segura put himself in a final for the first time and he took advantage with a 2-1 win over Legacy’s Joey Joiner.
Segura was one of two state champions for Aurora in a successful state tournament that featured 14 top-six placers. Grandview’s Fabian Santillan won his second state title, while Cherokee Trail’s Sam Hart lost in the 220-pound title match.
High jump titles highlight big state track meet for Aurora
Darrian Leu-Pierre soared higher than ever before May 16 and he knew exactly why.
He had help.
The Grandview senior believed the spirit of his best friend Lloyd Chavez — a Cherokee Trail student who was shot and killed in front of his home a week earlier — played at least some part as he won a state championship in the Class 5A boys high jump at Jefferson County Stadium.
With a handful of Chavez’s family members watching intently from the stands, Leu-Pierre eclipsed his best jump prior to the state meet — 6 feet, 6 1/2 inches — and outlasted Northglenn’s Hector Ortega to win the state championship. Leu-Pierre cleared 6-8 for the winning height and then took three attempts at 6-9.
It was the culmination of a difficult week, during which Leu-Pierre had to come to terms with losing his dearest friend.
Leu-Pierre’s title was part of Aurora’s high jump domination at the state track meet, as Grandview’s Alisha Davis won the girls 5A title and Raina Branch of Vista PEAK earned the 4A crown in the event. It was part of a large championship haul for the city that included two for Regis Jesuit’s Zion Gordon (100 meters, 100 meter hurdles), plus wins for Gateway’s Elijah Williams (200 meters) and Eaglecrest’s Langston Williams (400 meters) as well as Grandview’s Lily Williams (400 meters).
Grandview girls soccer team cements dynasty status
The Grandview girls soccer team solidified its status as a dynasty and Caylin Lyubenko continued to build her individual legacy of clutch play May 22.
Lyubenko — who tallied the game-winner overtime in the 2018 final — scored twice in the first half and the Wolves held on for a 2-1 win over Arapahoe at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park that brought the program its fourth state championship in the past five seasons.
Grandview now sits in a tie for third all-time in Colorado history with five state championships.
Hinkley holds unique wrestling dual…in a shopping mall
The Hinkley wrestling team thought outside the box to hold a unique dual match Jan. 29 when it put on the “Town Center Takedown” at the Town Center of Aurora. The brainchild of Hinkley coach Rodney Padilla, the Thunderbirds set up a wrestling mat in front of Macy’s and drew a large crowd of fans and random passersby as they faced the Far Northeast Warriors for 16 matches.
Other 2019 prep notables: It was a great year for Regis Jesuit in terms of state championships for teams and individuals. The Raiders brought home the state baseball, ice hockey and boys tennis championships during the calendar year, plus individual titles for Zion Gordon (track), Antonio Segura (wrestling), Will Goodwin (swimming), Quinn Henninger (diving) and Jada Surrell-Norwood (swimming), plus the singles tennis trio of Morgan Schilling, Andy Schuiling and Cameron Kruep plus the No. 4 doubles team of Nathan Tolva and Alexander Samuelson. …The Grandview girls basketball team had its state championship three-peat quest end agonizingly short, as Cherry Creek rallied for a 51-49 win in the 5A final March 9. The Wolves got outscored 12-3 to end the game. …Smoky Hill’s Kenny Foster earned Colorado’s Gatorade Player of the Year in boys basketball. …Grandview girls basketball star Lauren Betts made the U16 National Team that won a gold medal at the FIBA Americas Championship tournament in Chile. …Cherokee Trail’s Cameron McConnell and Gateway’s Yasin Sado qualified for Nike Cross Nationals meets.