Girls Basketball: Capsule look at Aurora Central, Cherokee Trail and Eaglecrest

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AURORA CENTRAL

Mascot: Trojans

Coach: Nate Smith, 1st season

2011-12 record: 4-18 overall (missed Class 5A state playoffs)

Players to watch: Brianna Purnell, 5-foot-5, G, soph.; Jenna Henderson, 5-10, G, fr.; Aimee Luevano-Diaz De Leon, 5-10, F, sr.; Demitria Flores, 5-8, G, sr.

Outlook: Nate Smith — Aurora Central’s athletic director — takes over coaching duties from Eric Dow and will lean on a blend of senior leadership and the young talented backcourt of sophomore Brianna Purnell and freshman Jenna Henderson. The Trojans suffered four losses of five points or less last season, so any improvement in crunch time could significantly help the win column this season. Besides an entirely new coaching staff, Aurora Central is adapting to completely new offensive and defensive scheme, plus renewing a focus on fundamentals, which has Smith believing his team will play its best basketball towards the end of the season. The diminutive Purnell earned honorable mention All-East Metro Athletic Conference last season when she averaged 7.2 points per game and led the team in assists and steals. Henderson is expected to contribute right away, while seniors Aimee Luevano-Diaz De Leone and Demitria Flores will be counted on for leadership.

CHEROKEE TRAIL

Mascot: Cougars

Coach: Todd Dixon, 1st season

2011-12 record: 9-15 overall (lost in 1st round of Class 5A state playoffs)

Players to watch: Nikki Duresky, 5-foot-9, G, sr.; Hannah Sparks, 5-7, G, jr.

Outlook: Todd Dixon — who has 12 years of coaching experience between jobs in Boone, N.C., and most recently Grand Junction — is now at the helm for the Cougars after a couple of seasons under Jim Bartok, and the new coach is looking for more physical and up-tempo play from an experienced group which lost to Standley Lake in the first round of last season’s Class 5A state tournament. Dixon saw Cherokee Trail at its best last season when the Cougars dealt his Grand Junction Central team a 38-point loss in a tournament game and he hopes to see more of that kind of play from the team this season, in addition to an emphasis on getting to the basket and drawing fouls. Cherokee Trail has back its top scorer in dynamic junior guard Hannah Sparks, who can hurt teams inside or outside and averaged 10 points per game last season on her way to second team All-Centennial League honors. Senior Nikki Duresky also made second team all-conference a year ago and Dixon is looking forward to the leadership and all-around contributions he’ll get from the four-year varsity player. Cherokee Trail is looking to improve on a fifth-place finish in the Centennial League standings.

EAGLECREST

Mascot: Raptors

Coach: Alex Moore, 1st season

2011-12 record: 3-20 overall (missed Class 5A state playoffs)

Players to watch: Kelly Gillespie, 5-foot-9, G/F, sr.; Jamie Stoner, 5-9, G/F, jr.; Michenzie Pace, 5-9, G/F, soph.; Qiqi Brockman, 5-9, F/C, jr.

Outlook: Alex Moore takes over a team that was shut out in Centennial League play last season — and has lost 25 straight league contests — and has just one returning starter. Moore, who has worked as an assistant with Eaglecrest’s boys program, is one of four new coaches in the league this season and knows the Raptors have a tough road ahead in one of the state’s top conferences. Eaglecrest must overcame a lack of abundant size and experience, so Moore is hoping that a foundation of strong defense can help the team be competitive while some young talent gets a chance to develop at lower levels early in the season. Gillespie inherits a new role as a leader in her third varsity season and should bump up her scoring average of 3.8 ppg a year ago significantly. Junior Jamie Stoner and sophomore Michenzie Pace will also play prominent roles for the Raptors, who lack experienced depth and can’t afford to be hit by the injury bug. Junior Qiqi Brockman saw spot action last season and has a chance to make an impact in the post, while senior Gelli Hayes — who missed last season with an injury — could boost Eaglecrest’s ballhandling and ability to dictate pace. The Raptors are trying to escape the Centennial League basement for the first time since the 2009-10 season.

Reach Sports Editor Courtney Oakes at [email protected] or 303-750-7555