Rob Harrison has a lot to look back on to call the 2019-20 athletic season a success for Aurora Central High school, even as the last chapter remained unwritten.
The onset of the coronavirus pandemic wiped out a spring season that was marked with new coaches and larger numbers of participants for Aurora’s oldest high school, but there was no doubt that it moved forward as a whole.
No Aurora high school changed more visibly — both inside and out — in terms of athletics than Aurora Central, which debuted a variety of facility changes and improvements that seemed to provide a spark that Harrison hoped would continue into the spring. It had through practice, but the Colorado High School Activities Association had to suspend the season March 12 because of the pandemic and cancel the whole thing April 22.
“We were trending up for sure,” Harrison told the Sentinel. “It was weird for us because it was that Friday before spring break where the mood initially was like ‘Holy cow, how long is this going to last?’ with a lot of uncertainty to ‘Wow, we aren’t going to have a spring season.'”
The school had turned over nearly its entire head coaching staff for spring sports, so the loss of the season kept them from making their first impressions.
Harrison was particularly interested in what Michael Wing would do for the baseball program, which had long struggled with numbers and was coming off a 4-18 season.
Wing was the head coach in the 1980s when the University of Colorado had baseball and in the short time since he got the job had helped improve numbers to the point that the school could field teams to play at three levels. The baseball field also got laser-leveled.
Casey Maphis became the track program’s third coach in as many seasons, but had already made some headway as a combined group of more than 80 boys and girls athletes had come out to compete this season.
Tim Walter took over the girls soccer program, which had some momentum after an 11-4 campaign a year ago and was expected to return junior Vanessa Vasquez, the most prolific goal scorer in Aurora girls soccer last season with 26 goals.
“There’s definitely some disappointment that all those coaches didn’t get a chance to compete this year,” Harrison said. “Some cool things were happening even though it didn’t end up on the field.”
From a facilities standpoint, no Aurora school experienced more change.
The money that came to the school from a grant from the Denver Broncos, NFL Foundation and LISC Corp. produced a brand new turf field, which was available for use after the fall season began.
The boys soccer team benefited greatly from the move from its old practice and playing home at the uneven, often swampy field across the street to the new turf.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the new field was the site of the Trojans’ greatest athletic triumph of the year in Harrison’s estimation, a rare victory over rival Rangeview — courtesy of a goal late in regulation by junior Jose Bucio — which cleared the way for Aurora Central to eventually claim the EMAC championship.
Coach Dorgham Alkabi received Co-EMAC Coach of the Year honors in his first season at the helm for a team that had eight players garner all-league accolades.
The basketball court that had been refinished the previous year and ended up much blacker than anticipated got redone to the correct color, a distinctive shade of dark grey that was originally modeled after that implemented at Oakland University.
On that court, Marcus Shelton finally got his chance to coach the boys basketball team after serving as an assistant under several head coaches, including Harrison, and he guided the Trojans to 16 wins, the most since the 2015-16 season.
Several Aurora Central teams got the benefit of another facelift, which saw Harrison transform an old catacomb of coaches offices and storage into a team room — complete with lockers where teams that were in action could rotate — and technology that could help them prepare pre-game.
Aurora Central’s fall season: The boys soccer team led the way for Aurora Central’s fall sports as the only one to win a league championship and the only one to qualify for postseason play. The Trojans posted an 11-4 record in the regular season to make the Class 5A state playoffs as the No. 20 seed in the 32-field. Aurora Central dropped a 2-1 overtime contest to No. 13 Rocky Mountain in the opening round. …The Aurora Central football team won its season-opener over Northridge, but dropped its next nine contests for a second straight 1-9 season under coach Austin Able. The Trojans did garner eight All-4A Metro League second team honors, including seven on the defensive side of the football. …The Aurora Central volleyball team finished 4-17 overall under first-year head coach Wiktoria Staromiejska. …Coach George Campos’ Aurora Central softball team finished 2-19. …Aurora Central didn’t have enough runners to register a team score for boys or girls at the EMAC Championship cross country meet, with Osvan Nicacio Huerta (36th) leading the way for the boys and Liliana Leyva (49th) pacing the girls.
Aurora Central’s winter season: Marcus Shelton took over the head coaching job of the boys basketball team after biding his time for many years and he guided Aurora Central to 16 victories and a spot in the 5A state playoffs for the second straight season. The Trojans — who had an All-EMAC first team selection in senior Messiah Ford — were seeded 34th in the playoffs and dropped a first round home game at No. 31 Fountain-Fort Carson. …Aurora Central had one qualifier for the 5A state wrestling tournament in freshman 106-pounder Timothy Herrera, who went 0-2 at the Pepsi Center to finish 16-16 on the season. …The Aurora Central girls basketball team finished with a 3-20 mark that included three losses by single digits. …The Aurora Central girls swim team finished fourth at the Aurora Public Schools Championship meet.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
AURORA CENTRAL’S 2019-20 ATHLETIC ACCOLADES
Football: Cai’Ries Curby, fr. (QB, All-4A Metro League 2nd team); Julian Graham-Simmons, sr. (DB, All-4A Metro League 2nd team); Javon Irving, sr. (DB, All-4A Metro League 2nd team); Jamison Johnson, jr. (DL, All-4A Metro League 2nd team); Pablo Lopez, sr. (DL, All-4A Metro League 2nd team); Trevon Simmons-Adams, fr. (DB, All-4A Metro League 2nd team); Simeon Veasley, fr. (LB, All-4A Metro League 2nd team); Anthony Wilson, sr. (DL, All-4A Metro League 2nd team)
Boys Soccer: Jose Bucio, jr. (F, All-EMAC 1st team); Saul Castellano, sr. (D, All-EMAC 1st team); Delfino Cruz, sr. (GK, All-EMAC 2nd team); Javier Garcia, sr. (M, All-EMAC 1st team); Felipe Hernandez, jr. (F, All-EMAC 2nd team); Darwin Levia, soph. (M, All-EMAC 2nd team); Nathaniel Saracay, jr. (D, All-EMAC 2nd team); Clever Sibomana, soph. (M, All-EMAC 2nd team)
Volleyball: Joselyn Flores, soph. (All-EMAC 2nd team)
Boys Basketball: Laquan Bowie, sr. (All-EMAC honorable mention); Messiah Ford, sr. (All-EMAC 1st team); Arkeveis Smith, sr. (All-EMAC honorable mention); Tray Willard, sr. (All-EMAC 2nd team)
Girls Basketball: Zhiyyah Brooks-Jones, sr. (All-EMAC honorable mention); Ashonna Harlan, sr. (All-EMAC honorable mention); Zana’e Hodges, soph. (All-EMAC 2nd team); Aryannah McClain, jr. (All-EMAC 2nd team)
Wrestling: Owen Barnhart, sr. (All-EMAC 1st team); Cristian Che, jr. (All-EMAC 2nd team); Mauricio Gonzalez, sr. (All-EMAC 2nd team)