The 2019-20 girls basketball season came ever so close to finishing despite the coronavirus pandemic, but it will never be known if Aurora would have finished on top.
Grandview gave the city representation in the Class 5A state championship game for a fourth straight season, but coach Josh Ulitzky’s team never got the chance to win its third title in that span when its championship showdown with rival Cherry Creek was canceled.
Sentinel Colorado’s 2019-20 All-Aurora Girls Basketball Team — as selected by the Sentinel from balloting of city coaches — includes a wide variety of talent from across the city.
Lauren Betts made a major impact for Grandview as a freshman, but her sophomore season was on another level as she helped the program to the cusp of another title.
The 6-foot-7 standout finished the season as Aurora’s top player in both scoring average (17.8 points per game, which ranked her fifth in 5A), rebounding (11.2 boards per game that put her fourth in the largest classification) and racked up a 5A-best total of 101 blocked shots (3.9 per game).
Betts — who recorded 15 double-doubles — was held in single digits only three times and two of them were among 24-3 Grandview’s three lone defeats, a 59-54 loss to Long Beach Poly at the Nike Tournament of Champions in which she still pulled down 16 rebounds and a 53-42 loss to Cherry Creek where she had eight points and nine rebounds.
Regis Jesuit senior Jada Moore signed a Division I scholarship offer with Kansas State prior to the season and then went out and had the most complete of her four varsity seasons in helping coach Carl Mattei’s team win the Continental League and make it to the Great 8.
With Fran Belibi graduated and off to Stanford, Moore was needed to score more and she did so with a scoring average of 17.6 points that was nearly double from her previous season and just 0.2 of a point behind Betts for top Aurora honors.
The All-Continental League first teamer boosted her average with a few more made 3-pointers (a career-high 23), but also scored in bunches in transition with the Raiders’ emphasis on pressure and at 5-foot-10 made a concerted effort to play big in the paint with the team’s lack of overall size.
As a result, Moore got to the free throw line more than twice as much as the previous season and led her team in rebounds with a whopping 8.8 boards per contest that ranked her fourth among Aurora players. She averaged 3.4 steals and 3.0 assists per game in an extremely well-rounded season.
Avery VanSickle’s outstanding junior season — which culminated in her recent verbal commitment to the University of Washington — was made more impressive given what the Regis Jesuit standout faced off the court.
Her father, Bryan (a well-known and well-liked club coach) was diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma on the opening day of the season, adding an extra layer of adversity to the season for VanSickle, who was to help her team stay among the state’s elite despite the loss of Belibi.
VanSickle missed periodic practices and one game as she dealt with her father’s illness and one of her own (during which she and her family were supported tremendously by the Regis Jesuit and Colorado basketball community), but she still turned in the best of her three varsity seasons in every statistical category. VanSickle’s average of 16.5 points per game was second on her team behind Moore and fourth-best in Aurora.
The D-I recruit’s 62 made 3-pointers (including two games with eight makes) were 10 less than her career high set last season, but were fourth-most in 5A, top 10 in the entire state and easily led Aurora players. VanSickle, an All-Continental League first team pick, was also good for 3.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.1 steals per contest.
Vista PEAK senior Seairra Hughes is committed to follow her older sister, Denali, to Central Arizona (a nationally-ranked junior college program) next year and the versatile 5-11 guard/forward does so after helping the Bison to their best season in total number of wins (22) and progress in the postseason (Sweet 16).
Hughes joined Betts as the only Aurora girls players to average a double-double (of which she had 14 on the season, fifth-most in 5A, including eight straight to open the season) with a scoring average of 15.7 points and 10.9 rebounds. Both of those totals were increases from Hughes’ previous season (when she averaged 9.7 points and 9.6 rebounds), but most notable was her average of 4.2 assists per game.
With several fellow seniors and finishers around her, Hughes shared the basketball often and ended up with an Aurora-high 105 assists, which made her one of only seven players in 5A credited with triple digits in the category. The All-EMAC first team performer added 2.2 steals and 1.6 blocked shots per game and will leave big shoes to fill next season for coach Howard Payne’s Bison.
Cherokee Trail senior guard Makayla Hemingway capped an outstanding prep career with her best performance in three healthy varsity seasons (she missed her sophomore season due to a significant knee injury).
The Colorado State-signee — part of an outstanding backcourt along with fellow senior Dominique Rodriguez — averaged 15.5 points per game that put her third in the outstanding Centennial League behind Betts (17.8 ppg) and Stanford-bound Cherry Creek point guard Jana Van Gytenbeek (17.2 ppg). Three-point shooting contributed greatly to that as Hemingway made the second-most triples among Aurora players with 54.
Hemingway contributed across the board statistically for coach Tammi Traylor-Statewright’s Cougars as well — in a season in which the All-Centennial League first teamer had a triple-double against Smoky Hill — as she finished in the top four among Aurora players in assists (3.8 per game) and steals (3.4 per game) in addition to her scoring.
Second team: Grandview landed a pair of second team All-Aurora selections in junior Addison O’Grady (a first team All-Centennial League performer) and senior Tomia Johnson, a Florida Golf Coast signee and second team all-league performer who was part of a backcourt that also had deserving honorees in fellow senior Landi Hudson (a Wyoming signee) and sophomore Marya Hudgins, who transferred in from Georgia and averaged double-digits in points, which included a clutch 17-point explosion in the Final Four win over Valor Christian. Rangeview had a dynamic backcourt of its own during an 18-7 season that ended with another Sweet 16 performance made up of junior Brianna Linnear and sophomore Ny’Era West — both All-EMAC first teamers — who averaged a 30.2 points per game. West nabbed 4.3 steals per game to lead Aurora and her average of 16.8 points per game ranked third, while Linnear (13.4 ppg) averaged 4.0 assists per contest (second-best among city players) and ranked fourth in Aurora in steals (3.3 per game). Senior Jadyn Ross’s senior season for Eaglecrest was one of the feel-good stories of the year as she put three major knee injuries behind her to play an entire season and averaged 13.8 points per game on her way to All-Centennial League second team accolades.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
2019-20 SENTINEL COLORADO ALL-AURORA GIRLS BASKETBALL TEAM
Lauren Betts, soph., Grandview; Makayla Hemingway, sr., Cherokee Trail; Seairra Hughes, sr., Vista PEAK; Jada Moore, sr., Regis Jesuit; Avery VanSickle, jr., Regis Jesuit
Tomia Johnson, sr., Grandview; Brianna Linnear, jr., Rangeview; Addison O’Grady, jr., Grandview; Jadyn Ross, sr., Eaglecrest; Ny’Era West, soph., Rangeview
Zhiyyah Brooks-Jones, sr., Aurora Central; Aaliyah Caston, jr., Hinkley; Sophia Cupp, jr., Smoky Hill; Amaya Charles, soph., Overland; Tatiana Coleman, sr., Eaglecrest; Mia Collins, jr., Cherokee Trail; Kaya Evans, sr., Vista PEAK; Ashonna Harlan, sr., Aurora Central; Zana’e Hodges, soph., Aurora Central; Marya Hudgins, soph., Grandview; Landri Hudson, sr., Grandview; Savitri Jackson, fr., Regis Jesuit; Malia Jimmerson, sr., Gateway; Mikayla Jones, sr., Vista PEAK; Mikenzie Jones, soph., Vista PEAK; Samantha Jones, jr., Regis Jesuit; Taniah Knox, soph., Gateway; Alleya Lebron, jr., Gateway; Jaedyn Martin, jr., Eaglecrest; Aryannah McClain, jr., Aurora Central; Dalys McGuinnis, jr., Eaglecrest; Kaush Noble, sr., Gateway; Dominique Rodriguez, sr., Cherokee Trail; Laci Roffle, fr., Eaglecrest; Grace Solarin, jr., Rangeview; Naomi Stapleton, sr., Overland; Genesis Sweetwine, soph., Rangeview