The Grandview girls basketball team finished with just one loss in 27 games in the 2015-16 season, but what a loss it was.
Following a game in which players and coaches alike look back on even one small thing they could have done differently, the Wolves had their season end with an agonizing two-point loss in the Class 5A state semifinals to a ThunderRidge team they handled a few weeks earlier.
The returning players for coach Josh Ulitzky’s team — nearly the entire roster, including two-time Gatorade Colorado Player of the Year Michaela Onyenwere — comes into the season determined to put the lessons learned into practice and leave no doubt as they seek the program’s first state championship.
Transfer Leilah Vigil, who played with Highlands Ranch in last season’s state championship game, further bolsters a group that includes the dynamic Onyenwere, who has committed to UCLA.
The Wolves have the ability to dominate the frontcourt with Onyenwere, 6-foot-2 sophomore Alicia Davis and Vigil, while senior guard Kennede Brown is a savvy floor leader and can team with a variety of other backcourt players.
Senior Lenzi Hudson, junior Jaiden Galloway and sophomore Allyah Marlett each showed aplomb hitting shots from the perimeter, and should find some open looks with the defensive attention that will be commanded inside.
Vigil is still acclimating to a different system at Grandview, but the talent is unquestionably there. The junior finished fifth in 5A in scoring at 18.7 points per game, doing the majority of her work in the paint and at the free throw line.
As a whole, it was a down year for girls basketball in Aurora, as no other team made it into the Sweet 16.
Coach Carl Mattei’s Regis Jesuit team suffered a second round defeat to Rampart, the second season in a row the Raiders went down in that round, which is very atypical for one of the state’s elite programs.
Regis Jesuit will again be young, but could be dangerous come the end of the season. Ultra-athletic sophomore Francesca Belibi is as explosive a player as any in the state and has been able to dunk a basketball in practice.
The Raiders have size in 6-4 junior Noelle Cahill and sophomore Sidney Weigand, versatile guards in senior Korynne Chaney and junior Jasmine Gaines, and a strong shooter in junior Emma Wrede, while freshman Jada Moore has the makings of another in a long line of talented point guards in the program’s illustrious history.
Cherokee Trail is the other Aurora team that picked up a postseason win last season, but coach Jerry Austin’s group will look different. The Cougars graduated the three key seniors that were the focal point of what they did, but senior Taryn Foxen appears ready to pick up the load.
Overland coach Wayne McDonald is quite optimistic about his group, which includes a large group of juniors who will be playing their third varsity seasons. Juniors Maia Jackson and Lyric Thompson each should continue to play big roles, while the increased maturity in sophomore guard Kailee Brown’s game will be key. Sisters Destiny and Jewell Humphrey transferred from Regis Jesuit and give the Trailblazers significant depth.
Eaglecrest turns over a new leaf with Robby Gabrielli at the helm. The Raptors eked into the playoffs as a No. 12 seed last season and exited in the first round, but return almost every single player from that squad. Junior Kailey Wilson will miss the season because of a summer softball injury, but sophomore Raquel Turner — the team’s leading scorer — is back, plus a large majority of the roster including seniors Taylor O’Brien, Jessica Stoner and Sha’la Wiggins.
Rounding out the Centennial League, Rick Harris has taken over as coach at Smoky Hill, looking to get the program back on track.
Vista PEAK had a very successful run in the Colorado 7 conference last season and made the 4A postseason, but coach Jim Bartok’s group has a new challenge in front of it with a move into the EMAC. The Bison will play in the predominantly 5A league in the hopes it will better prepare them for the postseason. Senior DeMe Moore is a force in the paint, while Vista PEAK has a little bit of a size and a lot of athleticism on the whole. The Bison thrived on defense last season and will try to apply the same intensity on that end against a new set of league teams.
Rangeview posted 13 wins to make the postseason field last season and returns a key figure in senior Jaelin Jones, who led the team in scoring and rebounding.
Gateway also made the postseason last year, but moves on without graduated twins Ashley and Carmen Ramey. Senior Makayla Jones’ return to health is a major key.
Hinkley welcomes back the majority of a roster from last season’s six-win campaign — headed by seniors Bre Hill and Kayla Readus — while Aurora Central and coach Anten Sakagawa has a virtual clean slate.
2016-17 AURORA GIRLS BASKETBALL PLAYERS TO WATCH
Ronke Adebayo, 5-foot-3, G, sr., Rangeview; Francesca Belibi, 6-1, F, jr., Regis Jesuit; Taylor Bender, G, soph., Gateway; Kailey Brown, 5-1, G, soph., Overland; Kennede Brown, 5-5, G, sr., Grandview; Noelle Cahill, 6-4, C, jr., Regis Jesuit; Korynne Chaney, 5-5, G, sr., Regis Jesuit; Kierra Cox, jr., Vista PEAK (injured); Alisha Davis, 6-1, F/C, soph., Grandview; Rajae Drew, G, sr., Hinkley; Samoane Emecheta, 5-6, G, sr., Eaglecrest; Taryn Foxen, 5-9, F, sr., Cher. Trail; Jasmine Gaines, 5-7, G, jr., Regis Jesuit; Jaiden Galloway, 5-7, G, jr., Grandview; Brooklynn Grieve, 5-3, G, jr., Vista PEAK; Bre Hill, G, sr., Hinkley; Lenzi Hudson, 5-6, G, sr., Grandview; Denali (DJ) Hughes, F, soph., Vista PEAK; Destiny Humphrey, 5-11, F, jr., Overland; Jewell Humphrey, 5-7, F, sr. Overland; Maia Jackson, 5-5, G/F, jr., Overland; Jaelin Jones, 5-7, G/F, sr., Rangeview; Makayla Jones, 5-6, G, sr., Gateway; LeShawn Love, 5-4, G, sr., Rangeview; Allyah Marlett, 5-8, G, soph., Grandview; DeMe Moore, 5-8, F, sr., Vista PEAK; Jada Moore, 5-8, G, fr., Regis Jesuit; Taylor O’Brien, 5-9, F, sr., Eaglecrest; Michaela Onyenwere, 6-0, F, sr., Grandview; Jordan Quinn, 5-6, G/F, jr., Vista PEAK; Kayla Readus, 5-5, G, sr., Hinkley; Jadyn Ross, 5-9, G, fr., Eaglecrest; Jessica Stoner, 5-7, G, sr., Eaglecrest; Lyric Thompson, 5-5, G, jr., Overland; Raquel Turner, 5-7, G, soph, Eaglecrest; Leilah Vigil, 5-10, F, jr., Grandview; Jordan Walton, 5-4, G, jr., Overland; Jadyn Wangaard, 5-7, F, jr., Vista PEAK; Sidney Weigand, 5-10, F, soph., Regis Jesuit; Sha’la Wiggins, F, sr., Eaglecrest; Emma Wrede, 5-7, G, jr., Regis Jesuit