Aurora Central boys basketball coach Marcus Shelton, right, gets his COVID-19 test on Jan. 13, 2021, at Aurora Central High School. At the start of the new year, Aurora Public Schools mandated bi-weekly testing for athletes and coaches who wanted to participate in the winter sports season, which was one of the top stories in Aurora prep sports in the first half of 2021. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

AURORA | 2021 began with a vastly different look to the winter sports championships due to the coronavirus pandemic and that lasted through the end of the athletic year, which went a month longer than usual because of a revised calendar from the Colorado High School Activities Association.

2021 Preps Year In Review, Part II, here

Here’s a look back at some of the important happenings in Aurora prep sports in the first half of 2021:

Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports

AURORA PUBLIC SCHOOLS REQUIRED BI-MONTHLY COVID-19 TESTING OF ATHLETES TO PLAY SPORTS

Aurora Public Schools became a trailblazer when it announced in January that athletes and coaches at district schools who were involved in Season B sports (boys and girls basketball, boys and girls wrestling, girls swimming and competitive cheer) had to get tested for COVID-19 twice a month in order to participate.

APS Athletic Director Casey Powell said the district administration would only allow sports to be played if testing was in place. Powell and Dave Schoenhals, Principal on Special Assignment in the district, worked out an agreement with COVIDCheck Colorado, which provided tests, lab time and other resources free of charge, which meant the district only had to pay for a vendor to administer the tests, great reducing the cost. Results would come back in 24-48 hours.

Testing took place at schools and began at Rangeview on Jan. 10, then moved to Hinkley, Aurora Central, Gateway and Vista PEAK Prep before starting the circuit again.

The requirement remained in effect through the end of the school year. When the 2021-22 season began, athletes and coaches either had to get tested regularly on their own or present proof of vaccination.

Full story, here

GRANDVIEW GIRLS BASKETBALL ASSISTANT COACH ROBERT DENNIS LOOKS BACK ON SURVIVING COVID-19, RETURNS TO BENCH

Robert Dennis caught COVID-19 at the very beginning of the pandemic in March of 2020 and the virus nearly claimed the life of the Grandview girls basketball assistant coach and Overland teacher, who spent months in the hospital in a coma.

Medical staff flipped him over on his stomach — a technique called “proning” — which helped his lungs drain and raised his blood oxygen saturation, which had been very low.

Dennis got out of the hospital, went through a rehabilitation regiment that included daily running or walking and was able to return to the classroom at Overland and to the bench to help coach Josh Ulitzky’s Wolves for the 2020-21 season.

Full story, here

WINTER PREP SPORTS CHAMPIONSHIPS LOOKED ODD, INCLUDING POOL MARATHON

The winter prep sports season had a massive restructuring because of protocols that were required in relation to the coronavirus pandemic. Approved variances loosened things up a bit, but they were severely limited on attendance, heavy on protocols to help prevent the potential spread of COVID-19 and with tremendously reduced numbers.

While boys and girls basketball changed usual championship venues (basketball from Denver Coliseum to World Arena in Colorado Springs), as did boys and girls wrestling (from Ball Arena to Pueblo) and ice hockey (Ball Arena to Budweiser Events Center), girls swimming kept its championship venue at the Veterans’ Memorial Aquatic Center, but with some significant changes.

Only 20 swimmers/relay teams qualified for the consolation and championship finals in each event and only those qualifiers were allowed on deck for the event before the area was cleared and sanitized, which made the 12-event meet take 11 hours to complete.

Full story, here

Regis Jesuit’s Emma Weber won Class 5A state championships in the 200 yard individual medley and 100 yard butterfly, doing so roughly six hours apart from each other.

Full story, here

REGIS JESUIT’S ANTONIO SEGURA SECURES THIRD CAREER STATE WRESTLING CHAMPIONSHIP

Only two Aurora prep wrestlers have won three state championships in their careers and both have come from Regis Jesuit, with the latest being Antonio Segura.

Wrestling at the state tournament held at Southwest Motors Events Center in Pueblo, Segura — who won 145-pound titles as a sophomore and junior — took the 152-pound crown with a 7-4 victory over Horizon’s Grayston Diblasi.

It put the finishing touches on a 23-0 senior season that left Segura 141-20 for his career. The American University recruit joined another Regis Jesuit star, John Crowley (2010-2012), as three-time winners from Aurora.

Full story, here

Segura’s sister, Alexis, couldn’t quite make it a perfect weekend for the family as she lost in the girls state championship match.

GATEWAY FOOTBALL TEAM HAS MAGICAL RUN TO SPRING CLASS 4A FINAL

The Gateway football team captivated Aurora during the spring season with a remarkable run to the Class 4A state championship game that played out like an inspirational sports movie.

The Olys saw their head coach —who held the job for 13 months despite not coaching a game due to the coronavirus pandemic — resign before the season and hired a new one midseason (former University of Northern Colorado coach Earnest Collins Jr.), but played the remainder of the season under the interim tandem of assistant Justin Clyatt and then-athletic director Brendan Netherton.

Led by senior quarterback Erick Covington, Gateway went on an upset-filled run through the 4A playoffs to get a chance to play Thomas Jefferson for the spring state title in a game played on the campus of Colorado State-Pueblo.

The Olys built a 20-7 lead in the opening half as Covington threw two touchdown passes, only to see the Spartans rally and end up with a 28-27 victory after scoring in the closing minutes of regulation and going for 2 points.

Full story, here

RANGEVIEW BOYS BASKETBALL TEAM’S WINNING STREAK ENDS AT 61

One of the most remarkable streaks of all-time in Colorado at the big school level came to an end March 18, when the Rangeview boys basketball team had its winning streak ended at a stunning 61 games.

The Raiders hadn’t been defeated since a game in late 2018 at the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas during a run that included the Class 5A state championship in 2019-20 and a spot in the semifinals the next season before the coronavirus pandemic canceled the remainder of the state tournament.

Coach Shawn Palmer’s Rangeview team won its first 16 games of a shortened Season B 2021 season, but got upended by George Washington 70-58 in a 5A semifinal game played on Rangeview’s home floor.

Full story, here

OVERLAND HAS NEAR-PERFECT STATE GYMNASTICS MEET

The Overland co-op gymnastics team had an epic performance at the Class 5A state meet in Season C by winning the program’s first state championship since 2014, which came complete with a slew of individual titles.

Sophomore Mattea Dolan (Grandview) helped the Trailblazers to a score of 185.325 points that gave them a comfortable win over Broomfield in a competition that included just six teams due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Dolan earned the all-around state championship and placed in the top eight in three events at the individual event finals, where her teammates shined. Mabry Robinson (Smoky Hill), who finished a close second in the all-around competition, won the state title in the vault, Bailey Rodriguez (Eaglecrest) ruled the balance beam and Autumn Ivester (Cherokee Trail) took the floor exercise.

Full story, here

FOOTBALL-LED GRANDVIEW BOYS TRACK TEAM WINS STATE TITLE, CITY RACKS UP 10 GOLD MEDALS IN ALL

The state track & field championships returned after they were wiped out the previous year by the coronavirus pandemic and Aurora teams and individuals shined brightly over three days at Jefferson County Stadium in a meet that took place in late June.

The Grandview boys track team — built around a core of players from the football team that brought chemistry in addition to speed — cruised to the program’s Class 5A state championship, as it wrapped up the crown on the second day of the meet and finished 21.5 points clear of its closest pursuer.

Senior Sonny Thompkins, junior Malique Singleton and sophomore David Maldonado all scored in four events for the Wolves, who claimed championships in the 4×100 and 4×200 meter relays. Maldonado, Evan Johnson and Charlie Dick ran on both winning relays with Singleton and Conrad Casebolt also contributing.

Aurora’s other boys champions were sprinters Sterling Brassfield of Eaglecrest (100 meters) and Regis Jesuit’s D’Andre Barnes (200 meters) plus the Rangeview 4×400 meter relay team of Ismael Dembele, James Holland, Daryn Ofori-Kuragu and Bryce McCutcheon (We are the champions story, here).

Five state championships were earned by girls athletes from Aurora programs as well, including a pair to Grandview in relays. Saniya Craft, Amber Davis and Molly Skurcenski teamed up to win both 800 meter sprint medley and 4×200 meter relays, which also included McKenzie Droughns (sprint medley) and Gabriella Cunningham (4×200).

City athletes took two of the three 5A girls jump titles as Grandview’s Melody Nwagwu ruled the triple jump and Regis Jesuit’s Fabiola Belibi took the long jump, an event that was delayed an hour during the finals due to intense rain, lightning and wind. Overland’s Zeaniah Wedgeworth claimed Aurora’s other title with a victory in the 100 meter hurdles (We are the champions story, here).

A-TOWN ALL-STAR GAME RETURNS

After a year absence due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sentinel Colorado was pleased to put on the return of the A-Town All-Star Games for the city’s top boys and girls basketball players, which were held back-to-back April 10 in front of a limited crowd at Gateway High School.

Played for the fifth time since its advent, the A-Town All-Star boys game actually needed overtime for the first time to decide, with Team West prevailing 115-111 over Team East.

Team West, coached by Gateway’s own Ibn Shabazz, got 22 points from Vista PEAK’s Curtis Stovall III — who had three of them in overtime — and Eaglecrest senior Ty Robinson made a big 3-pointer in the extra session. Hinkley’s Taveon Long scored a game-high 27 points and Smoky Hill’s Anthony Harris Jr. had 19 for Team East, which was coached by Shawn Palmer.

Full story, here

Team West had an easier time winning in the A-Town All-Star girls game, as the squad coached by Vista PEAK’s Howard Payne came away with a 71-53 victory over Team East, which was guided by Eaglecrest’s Robby Gabrielli.

Eaglecrest’s Nia McKenzie scored 22 points and Vista PEAK’s Breanna Jefferson poured in 19 points to lead Team West, which built a 14-point lead and held off one charge in the second half to top Team East, which got a game-high 26 points from Regis Jesuit’s Jordan Jones and 11 from Rangeview’s Brianna Linnear.

Full story, here

Other notables: The Regis Jesuit girls basketball team pulled off a major upset of rival Grandview in the semifinals of the Class 5A state tournament to earn a chance to play in the state title game for the eighth time. After major contributor Savitri Jackson suffered a major knee injury in pre-game warmups, the Raiders fell to Valor Christian in a championship game played at World Arena in Colorado Springs (full story, here). …Only four teams qualified for the ice hockey state tournament, which was severely reduced due to the coronavirus pandemic, with Regis Jesuit representing the Aurora area. Coach Dan Woodley’s Raiders got goals by Dylan Thompson and Robbie Dembeck to take the lead over Valor Christian, but the Eagles tied it and won it 3-2 in overtime to make the state championship game (full story, here). …In the first girls state wrestling tournament as a sanctioned sport, Regis Jesuit’s Alexis Segura finished as the runner-up at 118 pounds when she lost by fall to Olathe star Nicole Koch in the title match at Southwest Motors Events Center in Pueblo, while Eaglecrest’s Blythe Cayko placed third at 185 pounds, Eaglecrest’s Katelynn Czerpak took fifth at 105 pounds and Vista PEAK’s Delaney Jarmon ended up sixth at 215 pounds. …Grandview junior Lauren Betts received Colorado Gatorade Player of the Year honors in girls basketball for her play during the 2020-21 season. In January, the 6-foot-7 star post player — the top-ranked player in the country in the Class of 2022 — revealed her verbal commitment to sign with NCAA Women’s National Champion Stanford (full story, here). …Four of the five schools with Aurora players that had boys volleyball teams for the inaugural sanctioned season of the sport — Cherokee Trail, Cherry Creek, Eaglecrest and Regis Jesuit — qualified for the first state tournament, which saw the Raptors make it to the semifinals before falling to eventual state champion Douglas County.

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