AURORA | When the final out got made in the Class 5A Baseball Championship Series June 3, it marked the official end to competition for Aurora prep sports for the 2022-23 athletic season.
Another outstanding spring for local athletes and schools included the harvesting of a pair of team state championships, a number of runner-up finishes along with a good assortment of individual success.
Spring prep athletes were the only ones that lost their full season in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic wiped out competition just after practices and tryouts wrapped up, which means this is the final time those who were freshman then (and seniors now) got a chance to compete.
Seniors like that helped push the Regis Jesuit boys swim team to its second straight Class 5A state championship and accounted for a pair of individual state titles to boot. Senior Truman Inglis picked up a state championship in the 50 yard freestyle, while he teamed with fellow seniors Hawkins Wendt, Carter Anderson and Ronan Krauss to take the 200 freestyle relay.
Seniors (Bianca Gleim, Kiara Garcia and Maya Walters) made up three-fourths of the Eaglecrest girls’ 4×200 meter relay team that won a second straight state championship, while McKenzie Droughns ran on the Grandview girls 4×100 meter relay winner and Jaylon Moore ran a leg on the Cherokee Trail boys’ 4×200 meter title winner, while Rangeview senior Micah Dobson capped his prep career with a 5A state crown in the boys triple jump.
But as much as the spring was a triumphant exit for a number of Aurora seniors, it also marked a bit of a changing of the guard as a slew of athletes rose to the forefront and laid the foundation for future success.
Grandview junior Gabriella Cunningham set herself up for a huge senior year with a two championship performance at the 5A girls track meet — improving on runner-up finishes from the year before — while Cherokee Trail sophomore Peyton Sommers, who was one of the athletes in all classifications that created a buzz at the state track meet as he took home gold medals in three of the four events he competed in and added a second place as well.
Sophomore Oliver Schimberg won a rare state championship for the Grandview boys swim program — only the second all-time — Smoky Hill freshman Sophia Stiwich lost in a playoff for the girls state golf championship and a number of other young athletes served notice for future springs.
The following is a brief look at each of the spring prep sports:
CHEROKEE TRAIL BOYS TRACK TEAM BUILT FOR ANOTHER RUN AT 5A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
The Cherokee Trail boys track team had its eyes on 2023 after the way that 2022 ended, as the Cougars knew that with some development they had a chance to be the team that rose to the top after rival Grandview won back-to-back titles in 2021 and 2022.
Throughout the season, it was apparent that Cherokee Trail was made of championship stuff, as coach Chris Faust’s team finished on top of nearly every meet it entered during the regular season minus those in which it had a split squad.
The Cougars won the Centennial League Championship meet — which often features many of the top contenders at the state meet — and whetted their appetite for the final meet with the performance of senior Beck Gutjahr, junior Kahari Wilbon and sophomores Kaelan Kombo and Peyton Sommers in the 4×400 meter relay.
The foursome would not run together at the state meet because of Sommers’ heavy individual program, but their last race together was a doozy. They clocked a time of 3 minutes, 13.02 seconds, to comfortably best the previous Colorado all-classification time of 3:14.73 run by the Rangeview team of Jordan Medina, Tyler Bloyer, Khalil Selers and Steffen Johnson in 2012.
Faust challenged his team to be the best team in the state one more time at the state meet and that’s just what the Cougars did, as they overcame a disappointing second place in the 4×800 meter relay (which included a dropped baton on the final exchange) to put themselves in position for a strong finish in their strongest events.
From there, it was a lot of heavy lifting from Sommers, who earned the first of his 38 total points in the meet as the anchor leg of a winning 4×200 meter relay team that also included Kombo, Wilbon and senior Jaylon Moore. The Cougars’ time of 1 minute, 25.65 seconds, was Colorado’s best regardless of classification.
On the final day of the meet, Sommers couldn’t bring home the 100 meter dash title — which went to Vista Ridge senior star Brandon Hills by an eyelash, though Sommer’s time of 10.50 run at the Centennial League meet finished the season as Colorado’s all-classification best — but he grabbed championships in the 200 and 400 meters in times only Mead star Tavon Underwood surpassed.
Cherokee Trail’s 4×100 meter relay team’s season-best performance turned in by Moore, fellow seniors Kalib Davis and Benjamin Reichert and sophomore Marquis Jamison secured the points Faust’s team would need to finish the meet without pressure.
“We knew we could take care of business earlier than usual, so we told the 4×100 guys that with where we were standing, if they went out and beat Erie, we were guaranteed to win,” Faust said. “Not only did they do that, the guys ran the fastest they did all year and chased down some other teams. It was fantastic and they sealed the deal.”
Best of all, three of the four individual point scorers for Cherokee Trail — Sommers, Kombo (who had two top-nine finishes) and junior Lavelle Kabeya-Kombo) should return along with the majority of all four relay teams, which should put the Cougars in position to possibly match Grandview with back-to-back titles.
“We’re going to be deep again, so we’ll be coming back and trying to defend that state title,” Wilbon said. “It’s up to God at this point, but this has been a great year.”
REGIS JESUIT BOYS SWIM TEAM GOES BACK-TO-BACK WITH 5A TITLES, UPS ALL-TIME CHAMPIONSHIP COUNT TO 24
Two losses to Cherry Creek in head-to-head competition might have discouraged some teams, but the senior-led Regis Jesuit boys swim team remained optimistic going into the Class 5A state meet as it attempted to defend last season’s state title.
Without a single diver on the roster, the Raiders had already ceded big points to the Bruins after the 1-meter competition, but coach Nick Frasersmith’s team remained resolute.
When two days of competition at the Veterans’ Memorial Aquatic Center was over, a whopping total of 15 Regis Jesuit swimmers scored in at least one event and five made championship finals in two events to net the Raiders 10.5 more points than the Bruins. That landed Regis Jesuit its 24th all-time state championship in the pool.
The biggest boost to the points column came in the 50 yard freestyle, which saw three Regis Jesuit swimmers finish in the top six, including the champion in Inglis, who touched the wall in 20.79 seconds to the 20.91 of Legacy’s Tegan Barrier. It was a massive win for Inglis, who was unsure how he would perform this season and is geared up to switch to water polo in college.
Inglis joined fellow seniors Ronan Krauss, Hawkins Wendt, Carter Anderson and Harry Kerscher as scorers in two championship finals. Wendt, Anderson, Krauss and Inglis finished off an outstanding season of relay performances for Regis Jesuit with a state title in the 200 yard freestyle relay in a time of 1:23.47.
Another senior, Charlie Klein, joined Wendt, Krauss and Inglis in the last swim off the meet, a third-place result in the 400 freestyle relay that allowed the Raiders to keep Cherry Creek (which finished second in the event) at bay in the team standings.
CUNNINGHAM BRINGS HOME THREE GOLD MEDALS, HELPS GRANDVIEW GIRLS TO RUNNER-UP FINISH AT 5A STATE TRACK MEET
Gabriella Cunningham took it to another level on the track and her performance at the Class 5A state meet appears to be the start of a dominant two-year run for the Grandview senior-to-be.
A total dedication to track after giving up hoops (she was a starter on the Wolves’ 5A girls basketball state championship-winning team in 2021-22) led to some impressive performances through the season for Cunningham, who shone brightly in the final meet.
The runner-up in the 100 and 300 hurdles to graduated Fabiola Belibi of Regis Jesuit in 2022, Cunningham made sure those events were hers this time around, at the expense of Vista PEAK’s Kendall McCoy, whose team moved up from 4A to 5A this season.
In the 100 hurdles, Cunningham ran a state-best time of 13.69 seconds in the 100 hurdles at the Stutler Twilight meet and was just slightly slower than that in the finals at state with a 13.78 to McCoy’s 14.48. Cunningham dropped the fastest time in Colorado regardless of classification in the 300 meter hurdles with a 42.71 with McCoy next at 43.34.
As the cherry on top of a meet that also saw her place fourth in the 100 meter dash, Cunningham anchored the relay team of senior McKenzie Droughns, junior Makiya Singleton and sophomore Leaiva Holliman to a gold medal in the 4×100 meter relay in the second-fastest performance of any team in the state (47.63 seconds) behind Mesa Ridge in 4A (47.21).
All that couldn’t quite get Grandview over the top in the championship hunt, however, as the result of the meet-closing 4×400 meter relay sealed the championship for Valor Christian and left the Wolves a close second with a lot to look forward to next season, though there will be a change at head coach with the retirement of John Reyes. Reyes leaves big shoes to fill for whoever takes over the program going forward.
SCHIMBERG LANDS RARE POOL TITLE FOR GRANDVIEW BOYS SWIM PROGRAM
It’s been a quarter of a century since Grandview High School opened its doors and it has seen a slew of outstanding swimmers pass through in that time, but only one had ever made it to the top of the medal podium at the Class 5A boys state swim meet until this season.
That was John Martens way back in 2011, as the future University of Texas swimmer and U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier won the 200 yard freestyle as a senior to set the standard for the program.
Oliver Schimberg is the newly-minted standard setter, however, as he brought home a state championship as just a sophomore. Bolstered by an incredible ability to swim 70 percent of the race underwater, Schimberg topped the field to win the 100 yard backstroke with a time of 48.87 seconds, which put him in front of Monarch’s Gavin Keogh, who finished in 48.98.
Schimberg’s time bettered the 49.59 he swam to set the Cherry Creek pool record just a couple of weeks before the state meet and he did not swim it at the Centennial “A” League Championships.
Grandview coach Dan Berve knew that Schimberg was “going to make some noise at state” and that proved to be the case as in addition to the state championship, Schimberg finished third in the 100 butterfly.
His effort helped the Wolves better last season’s 10th place by coming in ninth with a good number of contributors set to return next season.
SEVERAL OTHER SIGNIFICANT GOLDS & PERFORMANCES AT STATE TRACK MEET
The Eaglecrest girls track & field team has grown and evolved in the short time since Chris Carhart has arrived as head coach and has particularly established itself in recent years in relay events.
The Raptors are especially good in the 4×200 meter relay as it has demonstrated with back-to-back 5A state championships in the event. Senior Bianca Gleim and sophomore Jaylynn Wilson were part of last season’s winning team and also this year’s group, which was rounded out by seniors Kiara Garcia and Maya Walters.
The championship-winning performance of 1 minute, 41.63 seconds, which Wilson brought to the finish line as the anchor was the fastest in 5A for the entire season and only a slight bit off the top time in the state regardless of classification (Mesa Ridge’s 1:41.21 to win 4A).
While Eaglecrest’s was a championship repeat, Rangeview senior Micah Dobson claimed his first in his final state meet and it took a big leap — no pun intended — for him to get it in the 5A boys triple jump.
Dobson didn’t even make the finals (top 10) in the event as a junior, but after total reconstruction of his jumping phases, he put together a great season that ended with a state title. Perhaps boosted by a small nap during a good-sized hiatus caused by lightning in the area, Dobson sliced through a slight headwind in the finals for a jump of 46 feet, 1 1/2 inches, that wasn’t his season’s best, but was plenty good enough to take the title.
Though they didn’t come back with golds, some young Aurora boys and girls athletes gave a show of what may be to come in the future. Sophomore Jarrius Ward — the star running back on Overland’s football team in the fall — finished as the 5A runner-up in the discus and shot put, while Cherokee Trail sophomore Kaeli Powe was the 5A girls triple jump runner-up after leading the state in it for much of the year and Grandview freshman Sasha Kennedy had two top-six finishes.
EAGLECREST BOYS VOLLEYBALL TEAM GOES ON RUN TO STATE TITLE MATCH
The team that brought home a trophy that might have not been expected to by many was the Eaglecrest boys volleyball team, which went on a magical run at the state tournament — again hosted at Overland High School — and came up just short of a title.
Coach Chad Bond’s team had played well in spurts during the season and had a very memorable moment when three sets of brothers — Ayden and Jackson Shaw, Dennis and Dillan Ancheta and Andrew and Greg White — all started a set together during a match, but the Raptors had more in store for the end of the season.
A portent of good things came in the opening match when Eaglecrest downed a Cherokee Trail team it had lost to three times during the regular season. The Raptors never slowed and almost became only the second team on the season to defeat powerhouse Discovery Canyon, last season’s state champion. Eaglecrest lost that match in five, however, but rebounded to earn a rematch in the final with the Thunder, which finally put the pesky Raptors away with a 25-21, 16-25, 25-17, 25-18 victory.
Senior Ayden Shaw shined especially brightly in the tournament with a whopping 87 kills over five matches.
REGIS JESUIT GIRLS LACROSSE TEAM MAKES ITS FIRST FINAL
The Regis Jesuit girls lacrosse program has strived to join the state’s annually elite group of programs and got there this season after some close calls in the past.
The Raiders took another step in the continuing evolution of the program by getting past the semifinal round that had tripped them up the previous two seasons — and beat rival Valor Christian to boot — to make the program’s first-ever final.
Like the previous seven state finalists, Regis Jesuit was unable to find a way to knock off juggernaut Colorado Academy, but made the Mustangs work hard for an 11-6 victory at Peter Barton Stadium.
Coach Crysti Foote’s Raiders lose a slew of key contributors from this season’s senior class — including Emily Bradac, who had four goals in the final — but among the returning players are leading scorer Maddy Jokerst and Rayn Parker, who started in the goal as a freshman.
REGIS JESUIT GIRLS TENNIS TEAM MAKES STATE TEAM AND INDIVIDUAL TOURNAMENTS; VISTA PEAK FROSH MAKES COURT HISTORY
Regis Jesuit was the only Aurora team in the Class 5A ranks to not only qualify for the state team tournament — which made its debut just as it had for the boys in the fall — but to get anybody into the individual state tournament, which it did with all three singles players and all four doubles teams.
The Raiders won in the opening round of the state team tournament and then fell in a second round match to eventual champion Cherry Creek, with the only victory in a 6-1 dual loss coming from the No. 1 doubles team of senior Quinn Binaxas and junior Mary Clare Watts. That same duo made the furthest run into the individual state tournament, as they made it to the state championship match and won the opening set against a duo of Fairview before falling in three sets.
A momentous occasion happened in 4A play for Vista PEAK, which had its first-ever state qualifier in freshman Francesca Johnson.
Though she didn’t win a match in play at Pueblo City Park, Johnson’s mere presence was not only the first for her program, but she was the first state tennis qualifier for an Aurora Public Schools program since 2011, when Rangeview — coached by current Vista PEAK coach Simon Morwood — had the No. 3 doubles team of Christiana Dedi and Melissa Kolanek and the No. 4 doubles team of Hannah and Rachel Carnes made it to the 5A state tournament.
SMOKY HILL’S STIWICH COMES IN SECOND IN 5A STATE GOLF; CAPUA LANDS TOP-10 FINISH FOR VISTA PEAK IN 4A
In her first season at Smoky Hill, Sophia Stiwich made a big impression on the golf course.
The freshman played strong throughout the Centennial League season and she was on top of her game May 30-31 at the Class 5A state meet at Black Bear Golf Club in Parker. Stiwich racked up eight birdies in her opening round and carded a 4-under-par 67 that left her just one shot off the pace set by Valor Christian’s Brenna Higgins, whom she chased down on the final day. An extra hole was needed to decide the championship and Stiwich had to concede after two errant tee shots put her in an impossible decision.
Still, Stiwich netted the highest state finish for a Smoky Hill girls golfer in at least the past 25 years and possibly ever.
Vista PEAK hadn’t had a state qualifier since before the coronavirus pandemic, but freshman Sophia Capua changed that when she made the 4A tournament.
A little over a year after she earned a trip to Augusta National Golf Club for the finals of the Drive, Chip & Putt competition, Capua was at Thorncreek Golf Club and tied for ninth place in the final team standings, while she could have been even higher if not for a tough final hole.
CHEROKEE TRAIL FINISHES SECOND IN 5A BASEBALL TITLE HUNT
The Cherokee Trail baseball team made a spirited run at winning the Class 5A state championship, but finished as the runner-up with a 4-0 loss to Valor Christian on June 3 at All-Star Park.
Seeded No. 25 among 32 teams in the 5A postseason going into regionals, the Cougars defeated No. 8 Legend and No. 9 Pine Creek in regionals to make it into the double-elimination Championship Series. Coach Jon DiGiorgio’s team then dispatched No. 1 Broomfield and No. 6 Chaparral on the first weekend and No. 3 Regis Jesuit and No. 5 Rock Canyon in back-to-back games to reach the title game, where it fell to the 15th-seeded Eagles.
Regis Jesuit went 2-1 on the opening weekend of the tournament and got a step further than the previous season before it got eliminated with a 1-0 loss to Cherokee Trail.
REGIS JESUIT BOYS LACROSSE TEAM’S MOMENTUM STOPPED IN 5A SEMIFINALS
The wait for another state championship will last a least another season for the Regis Jesuit boys lacrosse team, which came up short of earning a chance to play for the Class 5A state title.
Coach Jim Soran’s Raiders generated some postseason momentum with a win over previously undefeated Cherry Creek in the regular season finale and it carried them through a second round win over Cherokee Trail (Aurora’s only other playoff qualifier) and a quarterfinal against rival Kent Denver.
Valor Christian brought a halt to that momentum, however, and solved Regis Jesuit’s defense the way no other team had on the season in a 13-7 victory at Peter Barton Stadium at the University of Denver.
AURORA GIRLS TEAMS MAKE ABNORMAL EARLY EXIT ON SOCCER PITCH
The Class 5A girls soccer state tournament sailed along through the final four rounds without any intervention from Aurora teams, which is atypical with Grandview’s recent success.
But the Wolves — who own six all-time state titles, including the 2022 crown — were ousted in the first round of the playoffs, as were the city’s other two qualifiers in Cherokee Trail and Regis Jesuit.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at email@example.com. Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports