Even with the advent of a new classification — Class 6A — the large school girls state basketball championship again returned to Aurora.
Grandview won last season’s 5A title and added a 6A crown this season when it went through an upset-filled run through the state tournament that ended with a championship victory over Monarch at the Denver Coliseum.
Sophomore Sienna Betts — Colorado’s Gatorade Player of the Year and winner of every major award possible in the state — leads the way on the 2022-23 Sentinel Colorado All-Aurora Girls Basketball Team, which is picked by the Sentinel in conjunction with balloting of city coaches.
Outside of the 6-foot-3 Betts, coach Josh Ulitzky’s Grandview team was short of the abundant star power it has had in years past, but it was long on character, determination and dedication to the team collective. Not many other programs could return just two players with experience from the previous season and manage to repeat as state champions, especially given how many programs in the state play at a high level.
The presence of Betts made all things possible, however. She went from an All-Centennial League second team performer last season (and second team All-Aurora as well) — when her sister, Lauren, was on the roster as one of several key seniors — to absolute dominance. She was Gatorade’s selection as Colorado Player of the Year (the third award in a row for the family following two for Lauren) and was CHSAANow.com’s Player of the Year as well.
Betts ranked seventh in the state in scoring average at 21.4 points per game, but she led the state regardless of classification with 16.5 rebounds per contest and easily led 6A in blocked shots (3.8 per game). In the postseason, Betts scored 100 points and pulled down 90 rebounds in five games (a 20-18 average) and her last-second shot was the game-winner in Grandview’s road upset at Fountain-Fort Carson in the Sweet 16.
But as much as those stunning statistical contributions, it was Betts’ calm demeanor and encouragement of her younger teammates that made them believe that anything was possible.
Regis Jesuit — which made at least the Sweet 16 for a seventh straight season and had its run stopped in the Great 8 — had one of the top duos in the state in juniors Hana Belibi and Coryn Watts, who were both All-Continental League first team selections.
Coach Jordan Kasemodel’s Raiders had an outstanding season in which it was the only team to beat Monarch until Grandview did it in the state championship game, defeated semifinalist Arapahoe, split with Cherokee Trail (as they won a Sweet 16 matchup after they dropped a regular season meeting) and lost to the top two seeds in the 6A state tournament (No. 1 Valor Christian and No. 2 Cherry Creek) by seven and two points, respectively.
Despite drawing significant defensive attention, Belibi knocked down 53 3-pointers on her way to the second-highest scoring average among Aurora players at 17.0 points per game (up from 14.2 ppg as a junior), while the all-state second team pick also averaged 8.1 rebounds, identical to last season.
Belibi (a CHSAANow.com all-state second pick as voted on by coaches) made the All-Aurora first team for a second straight season.
Watts, meanwhile, led Regis Jesuit’s prolific outside attack with 55 3-pointers (the most of any city player and which booster her total to an astounding 120 over the past two seasons) and averaged 14.6 points per contest in addition to 4.0 assists, which tied her for third in 6A in the category.
Watts, who got an honorable mention all-state nod, was an All-Aurora second team performer last season.
Cherokee Trail had early season wins over Highlands Ranch and Regis Jesuit, picked up its first win over Grandview since the 2009-10 season with a dramatic victory on the Wolves’ home floor and rose to as high as No. 2 in CHSAANow.com’s 6A coaches poll.
The Cougars had a deeper pool of talent than usual, but junior Damara Allen served as the catalyst. The Cougars’ lone All-Centennial League first team selection (and CHSAANow.com all-state second team pick) averaged 11.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game as one of the spearheads of coach Tammi Traylor-Statewright’s defense that allowed just 41 points per game.
Even though she made fewer shots from behind the 3-point arc, Allen upper her scoring average for a third straight season and she finished in double digits 15 times, including 24 points in Cherokee Trail’s signature win against Grandview and 25 against Rangeview. Two of her three double-doubles came against Great 8 teams (14 points, 10 rebounds against Regis Jesuit and 10 points, 12 rebounds against Cherry Creek).
Eaglecrest made it to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006 and a trio of seniors (Nia McKenzie, Laci Roffle and Anjolene Ramiro) continued to be the backbone for coach Robby Gabrielli’s squad, which defeated Grandview during the regular season and opened the 6A postseason with an upset road win at Rangeview.
McKenzie was the Raptors’ lone All-Centennial League first team selection and an honorable mention all-state pick, while she also earned a spot in the Colorado Coaches of Girls’ Sports (CCGS) All-State game after a season in which the Washburn University commit averaged 13.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.7 steals and 2.4 assists per game.
McKenzie, who increased her scoring average all four seasons of varsity play (after she came over to Eaglecrest from Regis Jesuit before her sophomore season), had seven double-doubles on the season, including a 15-point, 15-rebound game in the postseason win over Rangeview.
All-Aurora second team: With a great depth of talent around the city, the second unit is also plenty accomplished, as it includes the Class 5A/4A City League Player of the Year in sophomore Eianna Jackson of Vista PEAK plus Eaglecrest senior Laci Roffle and others. Jackson was a CHSAANow.com 5A all-state honorable mention selection as she averaged 16.8 points per game to lead the Bison, who made it to the Sweet 16 for the second time in three seasons. The second unit also includes Ashlyn Stapleton, the only senior for Vista PEAK who graduates as the program’s all-time single season 3-point leader after she knocked down 55 on the season and made the 5A/4A City League first team. Roffle was the other scorer that averaged double-digits for Eaglecrest and the All-Centennial League second team pick also provided a needed presence in the paint, while she also made the third-most 3-pointers for the Raptors. Delainey Miller, an All-Centennial League second team selection, provided defensive intensity and worked inside as a great compliment to Cherokee Trail’s guard-heavy lineup. Zane Bullock made the 6A City League first team and provided a bit of everything for Rangeview on its way to another strong season and helped the Raiders to 16 wins and a 14th straight appearance in the postseason, though a first round loss to Eaglecrest kept the program out of at least the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2018. Bullock ranked first, second or third in every significant statistical category for her team.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at email@example.com. Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
2022-23 SENTINEL COLORADO ALL-AURORA GIRLS BASKETBALL TEAM
Damara Allen, jr., Cherokee Trail; Hana Belibi, jr., Regis Jesuit; Sienna Betts, soph., Grandview; Nia McKenzie, sr., Eaglecrest; Coryn Watts, jr., Regis Jesuit
Zane Bullock, sr., Rangeview; Eianna Jackson, soph., Vista PEAK; Delainey Miller, soph., Cherokee Trail; Laci Roffle, sr., Eaglecrest; Ashlyn Stapleton, sr., Vista PEAK
Alana Biosse, jr., Cherokee Trail; Ilaisaane Davis, soph., Overland; Isa Dillehay, sr., Grandview; Shyann Farbes, jr., Eaglecrest; Madeline Gibbs, soph., Cherokee Trail; Iliana Greene, soph., Regis Jesuit; Mackenzie Griffin, jr., Vista PEAK; D’Ajha Horton, jr., Rangeview; Jamaea Johnson-Gonzalez, fr., Aurora Central; Shaya Kelley, sr., Aurora Central; Destiny Moore, jr., Overland; Amirah Pena, soph. Vista PEAK; Lauren Perkins, soph., Eaglecrest; Anjolene Ramiro, sr., Eaglecrest; Seilani Relford, jr., Overland; Jane Rumpf, soph., Regis Jesuit; Knikia Starks, fr., Vista PEAK; Talia Strode, soph., Cherokee Trail; Aaliyah Taylor, sr., Gateway; Danielle Washington, jr., Rangeview