From left, Eaglecrest senior Favour Akpokiere, junior Bianca Gleim, freshman Jaylynn Wilson and senior Haley Esser put together a fantastic season that included a Class 5A 4×200 meter relay state championship and the Raptors claimed numerous spots on the 2022 Sentinel Colorado All-Aurora Girls Track & Field Team. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

An outstanding season of championships, near misses and strong debuts on the track for Aurora girls led to a heavy concentration of athletic firepower on the 2022 Sentinel Colorado All-Aurora Girls Track & Field Team.

Cherokee Trail earned a trophy as Class 5A state runner-up and not surprisingly collected a large group of accolades on the All-Aurora team, which is based primarily on results from the three-day state championship meet at Jefferson County Stadium.

While veteran coach Chris Faust and the Cougars (who won the Aurora City Championship meet in April) had a slew of top-nine placers, it included only one state championship and that came from junior sprinter Symone Adams, who took advantage of her first state meet to win a crown in the 100 meter dash.

Adams lost her freshman year to the coronavirus pandemic and missed state a year ago with a serious knee injury, from which she recovered enough to have a massive season. She won the event at the Aurora City Championships at the start of the season, clocked a time of 11.91 seconds at the Stutler Twilight for the time that would lead Colorado regardless of classification for the season and then took the state crown with a time of 12.18 seconds.

Jumping events were a Cherokee Trail staple and it almost yielded another state championship, but freshman Kaeli Powe finished as the 5A runner-up a triple jump competition that went down to the very end. Powe uncorked a jump of 39 feet, 7 1/2 inches, on her second-to-last attempt of the finals to take the lead, only to watch Fort Collins’ Brooke Naughton (a multiple-event state champion) match it. That made the second-longest jump the tiebreaker and Naughton prevailed with a final leap of 37 5 1/2.

Cherokee Trail has a three-time All-Aurora team member in junior Mckenna Mazeski, who transferred her success from the cross country season in the fall — when she made the medal podium as a top-10 finisher — to the distance events as she was the city’s top performer as the state meet in the 1,600 meters (12th place) and 3,200 meters (14th), while she had the top time among locals during the regular season in the 800 meters, in which nobody from an Aurora program qualified for state. Mazeski won the city championship in the 800 meters at the beginning of the season.

Relays have been a traditional Cherokee Trail strength and that continued as two units — the 800 sprint medley team of juniors Ameena Wynn and Torie Turner plus freshmen Sky Thompson and Ka’Moyyah Allen (which finished in sixth place) and the 4×800 meter foursome of juniors Mazeski and Anna Chilton, sophomore Taylor Hodges and freshman Madison Lippold — led city competitors.

In addition to Powe, senior Natalia Leu-Pierre (shot put) and junior Sydnie Bernard (pole vault) — both multi-sport athletes — earned All-Aurora field event spots for Cherokee Trail.

Leu-Pierre, who played on the school’s basketball team in the winter, grabbed fifth-place in the 5A shot put competition with a top throw of 37 feet, 5 1/2 inches, which was shy of her PR of 39-9 1/2 that landed her the Centennial League championship in the event a week earlier.

Bernard — a gymnast — won the Aurora City Championship meet at the beginning of the season and saved her best performance for last as she cleared a personal best height of 10 feet, 3 inches, to earn a second straight All-Aurora honor. She finished with the same height as four other vaulters who tied for ninth, but missed out on placing on criteria.

Eaglecrest had an incredible season as a collection of new and unproven talent discovered by new coach Chris Carhart — who has a tradition of getting the best from raw potential — turned the state on its ear and produced a 10th-place team finish.

Senior Haley Esser played on the basketball team in the winter and on the school’s soccer team in the fall, but she added track & field and it paid off big time. Esser burst on the scene as a sprinter and ended up as the 5A 200 meter dash champion in her first and only state meet, as she surpassed Allen — who beat her a week earlier at the Centennial League Championship meet despite Esser clocking a PR of 24.47 seconds — to win in 24.73.

Esser also ran the anchor legs on the Raptors’ championship-winning 4×200 meter relay and runner-up 4×100 meter relay and it all added up to a Division I scholarship offer at the University of Wyoming, which she accepted. Esser also earned the All-Aurora slot in the 400 meter dash as she ran the third-fastest time in the prelims of 57.10, but Carhart pulled her out of the finals to concentrate on her other events.

Esser wasn’t the only multi-sport standout to make a splash as fellow senior soccer player Favour Akpokiere, junior Bianca Gleim — a standout cheerleader — and rising sophomore Jaylynn Wilson formed a remarkable team that got results.

The Raptors’ foursome finished with the fastest time in Colorado regardless of classification in winning the 4×200 meter state championship (1:40.38) with relative ease, while they ran 48.42 in the finals of the 4×100 to finish second to Chatfield, but clocked a 47.66 that led the state a week earlier.

Regis Jesuit senior Fabiola Belibi was unable to repeat as 5A state champion in the long jump as she finished second in the event on the opening day of the meet, but the Harvard signee swept her other two individual events.

On the closing day, Belibi earned the top spot on the medal podium in both the 100 and 300 meter hurdles, events she had hoped to win last season. She crossed the finish line in 14.29 seconds to hold off Grandview sophomore Gabriella Cunningham for the 100 meter title (which she also won at the city meet), while her season-best time of 14.02 (which came with a 1.9 wind reading) came at the Denver North Invitational.

Belibi then finished in front of both Cunningham and Chatfield’s Amelia Hubbell in the 300 meter hurdles with a time of 43.27 seconds that was the second-fastest in the state regardless of classification and No. 1 in 5A.

Grandview had another strong season with a fourth-place team finish that included a sparking state meet from sophomore Gabriella Cunningham — who was edged for All-Aurora spots in three individual events — which left coach John Reyes’ Wolves with two spots among the city’s top performers.

The lone Grandview individual to make the All-Aurora team is junior Dallis Robinson, who topped city high jumpers for a second consecutive season. Robinson (the city champion) tied for third as a sophomore and climbed one spot to second as a junior with a top cleared height of 5 feet, 4 inches, which was an inch shy of the PR she achieved a week earlier in winning the event at the Centennial League Championship meet.

The Wolves also had an Aurora-best finish in the 4×400 meter relay, as the team of seniors Molly Skurcenski and Emma Thomure, junior Ava Robinson and sophomore Anna Wehrenberg finished as the 5A runner-up in an event that consisted of time finals for the sake of schedule. Grandview clocked a time of 3:58.76 to finish well behind run-away winner Cherry Creek, but a shade ahead of Regis Jesuit (3:59.03 with Belibi running the anchor leg) for city honors.

Vista PEAK had a strong throwing group and it is represented on the All-Aurora team by senior Alyssa Johnson, who had the city’s top performance at the state meet in the discus. Johnson (who played on the Vista PEAK football team in the fall) improved massively throughout the season as she finished third at the city meet with a throw of 93 feet, but blew that away with a PR of 117-4, to win the Last Chance meet at Jeffco Stadium. She then earned eighth place in the 4A competition with a top throw of 114-3.

Though they weren’t the tops in their respective events, Grandview sophomore Gabriella Cunningham and Vista PEAK junior Kendall McCoy were two of Aurora’s elite performers throughout the season and showed it at the state meet.

Cunningham — a key contributor to Grandview’s 5A girls basketball state championship in the winter — and McCoy each finished on the medal podium in three events (as did HInkley senior Courtney Wilborn). Cunningham was the Centennial League champion in the 100 meter dash and both hurdles events, while McCoy was the winner of the 300 meter hurdles race at the Aurora City Championship meet and won both hurdles events and the high jump at the EMAC Championship meet.

Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports

2022 SENTINEL COLORADO ALL-AURORA GIRLS TRACK TEAM

FIRST TEAM

800 sprint medley relayCherokee Trail (Ameena Wynn, jr., Torie Turner, jr., Sky Thompson, fr., Ka’Moyyah Allen, fr.); 4×800 meter relayCherokee Trail (Madison Lippold, fr., Mckenna Mazeski, jr., Anna Chilton, soph., Taylor Hodges, soph.); 100 meter hurdlesFabiola Belibi, sr., Regis Jesuit*; 100 meter dashSymone Adams, jr., Cherokee Trail*; 4×200 meter relayEaglecrest (Favour Akpokiere, sr., Bianca Gleim, jr., Jaylynn Wilson, fr., Haley Esser, sr.)*; 1,600 meter runMckenna Mazeski, jr., Cherokee Trail; 4×100 meter relayEaglecrest (Favour Akpokiere, sr., Bianca Gleim, jr., Jaylynn Wilson, fr., Haley Esser, sr.); 400 meter dashHaley Esser, sr., Eaglecrest; 300 meter hurdlesFabiola Belibi, sr., Regis Jesuit*; 800 meter runMckenna Mazeski, jr., Cherokee Trail; 200 meter dashHaley Esser, sr. Eaglecrest*; 3,200 meter runMckenna Mazeski, jr., Cherokee Trail; 4×400 meter relayGrandview (Molly Skurcenski, sr., Anna Wehrenberg, soph., Emma Thomure, sr., Ava Robinson, jr.); Long jumpFabiola Belibi, sr., Regis Jesuit; High jump Dallis Robinson, jr., Grandview; Pole vaultSydnie Bernard, jr., Cherokee Trail; Triple jumpKaeli Powe, fr., Cherokee Trail; DiscusAlyssa Johnson, sr., Vista PEAK; Shot putNatalia Leu-Pierre, sr., Cherokee Trail; UtilityGabreilla Cunningham, soph., Grandview & Kendall McCoy, jr., Vista PEAK

* — State champion

HONORABLE MENTION

Symone Adams, jr., Cherokee Trail (200 meter dash); Zane Bullock, jr., Rangeview (long jump); Blythe Cayko, jr., Eaglecrest (shot put); Andrea Davis, fr., Grandview (high jump); Sophie Dicosola, sr., Regis Jesuit (high jump); Ryen Galloway, fr., Cherokee Trail (high jump); Haley Glunz, jr., Grandview (high jump); Sanaai Hancock, Cherokee Trail (300 meter hurdles); Mikenzie Jones, sr., Vista PEAK (shot put); Kaeli Powe, fr., Cherokee Trail (long jump); Natalie Rue, sr., Cherokee Trail (triple jump/long jump); Di’Vynne Smith, sr., Eaglecrest (shot put); Sky Thompson, fr., Cherokee Trail (triple jump/long jump); Courtney Wilborn, sr., Hinkley (100 meter hurdles/300 meter hurdles/200 meter dash); Desiree Young, sr., Smoky Hill (high jump). Relays: Sanaai Hancock, Kaeli Powe, Torie Turner, Symone Adams, Cherokee Trail (4×200 meter relay); Avery Harr, Ava Robinson, Keliah Thompkins, Molly Skurcenski, Grandview (4×200 meter relay)

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