It goes without saying that 2020 hit differently in every phase of life and had significant impact on prep sports in Aurora.
The year began as usual with state tournaments completed in three winter sports before the coronavirus pandemic altered everything, stopping basketball just short of awarding championships, wiping out the entire spring season and creating a tumultuous summer filled with periods of quarantine and the institution of unprecedented protocols.
Things resumed on a limited basis in the fall, but again went into winter hibernation as COVID-19 flared. Here’s a look back at some of the top stories of 2020 in Aurora prep sports:
Former Rangeview baseball player Cody Lyster dies at 21 of COVID-19
Rangeview High School graduate Cody Lyster died late April 7 due to complications from the COVID-19 virus.
Lyster had been in the hospital for a week battling the virus when his heart stopped as doctors were trying to put him on dialysis according to a social media post from his father, Kevin, who had recently been hospitalized himself. At 21-years-old, Cody Lyster was one of the youngest deaths from COVID-19 in the early stages of the pandemic and is one of just 541 victims under the age of 24 among the 261,530 Americans who had died of the virus through the first week of December.
“How do I craft the words to say I love you,” Kevin Lyster’s Facebook post read. “The doctors worked on our son for half an hour and at 11:55 p.m. our beloved son and my best friend, Sierra’s brother and Lea Ann’s baby boy left this world to play baseball on the field of dreams. We were able to say goodbye to him, hug him and hold him afterwards. Please take this virus seriously. We are hollow and at a loss for words.”
Well-liked and known for his fun-loving personality, according to those who knew him, Cody Lyster loved the game of baseball and played it throughout his time at Rangeview, where he played on the infield and also pitched.
The major Colorado Rockies fan went on to play club baseball at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, where he was majoring in criminal justice to follow in the footsteps of his father, a police officer at the University of Colorado Anschutz Campus in Aurora.
Posthumously, the Arapahoe Little League created the Cody Lyster Sportsmanship Award in his honor and Colorado Mesa awarded him an honorary degree, presenting a diploma to his family, which was in attendance at a ceremony in Grand Junction Dec. 15.
Coronavirus ends hoops championship bids for Rangeview, Grandview boys & girls teams
The coronavirus pandemic hit full force at just the wrong time for Aurora boys and girls basketball teams. The escalation of Colorado’s COVID-19 concerns and those across the country coincided with the final days of the Class 5A boys and girls state basketball tournaments, with state championships on the fingertips of local teams.
On March 12, the Grandview girls knocked off Valor Christian in an epic 5A girls semifinal at the Denver Coliseum to earn a chance to play two nights later against rival Cherry Creek. The talented-loaded teams split their two Centennial League contests and were primed for a deciding game when the Colorado High School Activities Association canceled the remainder of the tournament.
“Everything we’ve done up to this point was to try and keep the experience of a state basketball tournament for our student participants and high school communities,” CHSAA Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green said in a press release. “In the face of this unprecedented public health emergency, we are compelled to discontinue play in all tournaments.”
CHSAA got in the girls semifinal games with massive attendance restrictions, but left on the sidelines were two Aurora boys teams, Rangeview and Grandview, which were set to meet in one of the two 5A semifinals.
Coach Shawn Palmer’s defending state champion Raiders had a 26-0 record — part of a 45-game winning streak that stretched back to the 2018 calendar year — and were attempting to be the first undefeated state champion in Colorado 5A boys hoops since 2004. Grandview had played Rangeview to within a point in the regular season.
Spring sports wiped out completely
The Opening Day of the regular season for spring sports turned out to be Closing Day as well, as the coronavirus pandemic forced the Colorado High School Activities Association to suspend the season March 12, then ultimately cancel it weeks later.
Girls golf and girls tennis had earlier start dates than the rest of the spring sports, so Vista PEAK got in one round of play at the Denver Public Schools Invitational March 5 and the Eaglecrest girls tennis team played a dual match with Lutheran March 11. On the actual first day for all sports, the Regis Jesuit girls lacrosse tea topped Dakota Ridge 18-4.
Teams in baseball, girls soccer, boys swimming, track & field and boys and girls lacrosse held out hope they would be able to resume and CHSAA postponed the restart several times before canceling.
CHSAA reconstructs calendar into four seasons, then pushes those back
The Colorado High School Activities Association spent the summer constructing multiple plans to contest all of its sports and activities in the midst of the pandemic.
A four-season calendar (as opposed to the usual three) took shape, with only four sports scheduled for the fall in boys golf, boys tennis, softball and cross country, while football was a late addition.
Winter sports were moved to Season B, which was scheduled to start on Jan. 4, 2021, but now aren’t expected to start practice until Jan. 25 after variance requests made by CHSAA to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment were denied. Season C and Season D sports and activities also were pushed back, with the season now scheduled to stretch into the later portion of June.
Football players flee state; season eventually approved with two options
Players, coaches and families fought doggedly for the right to have a football season and they were eventually successful, but there was major impact felt before hand.
The uncertainty of having a season at all and slow response over the summer caused multiple players from the Aurora area and elsewhere in the state to leave for surrounding states that seemed to offer more of a guarantee for seniors who needed a final season for scholarship purposes.
Hamilton High School in Chandler, Arizona, became the biggest beneficiary, with three former Regis Jesuit players — including standout quarterback Nicco Marchiol — plus former Grandview star running back Noah Schmidt and others arriving. The new additions helped the Huskies play for a state championship.
In Colorado, approval finally got reached after several exchanges between CHSAA and Gov. Jared Polis’ COVID response team, but only happened if the sport was offered in fall and spring, when it had been moved.
Six Aurora teams chose the former in Regis Jesuit plus five Cherry Creek Schools programs in Cherokee Trail, Eaglecrest, Grandview, Overland and Smoky Hill. Cherokee Trail, Eaglecrest and Regis Jesuit all qualified for the eight-team 5A state playoffs, but all three lost their first games.
Aurora Public Schools programs (Aurora Central, Gateway, Hinkley, Rangeview and Vista PEAK) will play in the spring.
Glenn Jr., Hart give Cherokee Trail first wrestling state championships
The Cherokee Trail wrestling program finally saw its championship drought come to an end with not one, but two, titles won on the final night of the Class 5A state wrestling tournament Feb. 22 at Pepsi Center.
A rare all-Aurora championship match at 106 pounds pitted Cherokee Trail sophomore Derek Glenn Jr. against Grandview junior Frankie Sanchez and it was Glenn Jr. who came away with a 4-2 decision that gave coach Jeff Buck’s Cougars the first state champion after they had been 0-5 in previous state championship matches.
Junior Sam Hart made it 2-for-2 later for Cherokee Trail when he finished an undefeated season with a 4-2 win over Brighton’s Dylan BravoPacker.
Regis Jesuit wrestler Antonio Segura repeats as state champion
With a target on his back all season, Regis Jesuit’s Antonio Segura survived everything thrown at him by opponents on the wrestling mat and all the adversity his coach heaped on him to win a second straight Class 5A state championship.
Raiders’ coach Brent Bieshaar entered Segura in matches in three different weight classes during the season and put him in some loaded tournaments outside of Colorado to bring the best out of him and it worked, as Segura finished 47-5 and beat Legacy’s Joey Joiner in the 5A final again.
Segura beat Joiner in dramatic fashion the previous season, but this time came up with five takedowns for a comfortable 10-7 victory. He became the fourth two-time state champion in Regis Jesuit history.
XC champ Begashaw wins Lotus School’s first-ever state title
Kidus Begashaw took the cross country world by storm in his debut season and capped it off with the ultimate prize.
A tireless guard on the basketball floor and midfielder in soccer, Begashaw’s fitness translated perfectly to his foray into competitive running — sparked by watching the state cross country meet the year before — and he went undefeated in Colorado and won the Class 2A boys state title.
Begashaw finished in 16 minutes, 7.8 seconds, to become the first-ever state champion for Lotus, an Aurora school of less than 1,000 students in grades K-12.
Regis Jesuit boys tennis team sweeps singles titles for 2nd straight season
The Regis Jesuit boys tennis team fell short in its quest to win a third straight Class 5A state team championship, but it had plenty to celebrate at the end of its coronavirus-shortened season.
Coach Laura Jones’ team qualified all three of its singles players and four doubles teams and all seven positions made it to at least the semifinals of the two-day state tournament at Gates Tennis Center, which was played before a limited audience.
Regis Jesuit gained big points from its singles ranks as it swept the three singles state championships for a second straight season. Senior Morgan Schilling qualified for his third No. 1 singles state championship match in four seasons and won his second straight title, while junior Conor Kaczmarcyzk won No. 2 singles and sophomore Cameron Kruep took the No. 3 crown. It was the second career titles as well for Kaczmarczyk, who won No. 3 singles as a freshman and played doubles last season, as well as Kruep, who won his position for a second straight season and joined Schilling in finishing the season undefeated.
Regis Jesuit’s Sophia Bradac captures elusive 5A breaststroke state title
Denied the previous year, Regis Jesuit senior Sophia Bradac capped her prep swimming career with the state championship she’d always wanted Feb. 14 at the Veterans’ Memorial Aquatic Center. In the Class 5A state championship heat of her favored stroke, the 100 yard breaststroke, Bradac touched the wall in 1 minute, 2.22 seconds, to top her previous lifetime best time by a mere 0.01 of a second and hold off Heritage’s Aislyn Barnett. Bradac is headed for Notre Dame.
Bradac, a Notre Dame signee, had family company in the water as younger sister Catherine also qualified for championship final in the event. She finished eighth.
Other 2020 prep notables: Regis Jesuit’s Ryan Occhionero made a late run at winning the 5A boys state golf tournament before finishing in a tie for second place, a stroke out of first. …Cherokee Trail’s Cameron McConnell finished as the 5A girls state cross country runner up for a second straight season, while the Cougars also had the top local finisher in the 5A boys race in Caden Smith, who placed ninth. …The Cherokee Trail softball team made an upset-filled run through the 5A state playoffs all the way to the state title game at Aurora Sports Park, which it lost to Fossil Ridge. In the quarterfinals, the SaberCats took out Aurora’s other state qualifier, Smoky Hill, which won the Centennial League championship and lost only one game (to Cherokee Trail) in the regular season. …The Regis Jesuit ice hockey team made the Frozen Four for the 13th straight season, but lost 2-1 to Valor Christian March 5 at the Pepsi Center kept the Raiders out of a fourth straight state championship game appearance. The deciding goal for the Eagles scored on a ricochet off the end boards and deflected off the skate of Regis Jesuit’s goaltender. …Smoky Hill senior quarterback Leslie Richardson III threw for 654 yards and eight touchdowns, both school records, in the Buffaloes’ 52-26 win over Poudre Nov. 26 and he finished as 5A’s leader in passing yards and touchdown passes. …Regis Jesuit senior Jada Surrell-Norwood was voted as Colorado’s 5A Swimmer of the Year by coaches, while Smoky Hill’s Maggie Robben was one of the co-winners of the prestigious Hoyt Brawner Award as the state’s top swimmer/diver, scholars and citizen.