Track & Field: Aurora jumping toward big finish to season

Vista PEAK sophomore Maya Evans hangs in the air during an attempt in the finals of the girls long jump during the Liberty Bell Invitational on April 22, 2016, at Littleton Public Schools Stadium. Earlier in prelims, Evans launched a jump of 20 feet, 6 3/4 inches that put her in the No. 1 spot in the country according to national database (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

The bar continues to rise around Aurora and only Cherokee Trail’s David Thornton and Regis Jesuit’s Austin Campbell know where it will stop.

The two seniors keep topping each other in the high jump this season with seemingly no end in site and the promise of an exciting matchup at the Class 5A state track meet in a couple of weeks at Jefferson County Stadium.

Part of a weekend of significant jumping feats for Aurora athletes, both attempted 7 feet over the past weekend. Thornton made it at the Stutler Bowl Twilight Invitational while Campbell just missed it at the Liberty Bell Invitational.

“It was warm out and it was nice to have good weather, so I knew it was going to be a good day,” said Campbell, who cleared 6-9 — two inches short of the 6-11 he hit last season — and attempted 7 feet for the first time in a meet according to coach Heather Budd.

Regis Jesuit senior Austin Campbell cleared 6 feet, 9 inches, at the Liberty Bell Invitational on April 22, 2016, at Littleton Public Schools Stadium. Campbell and Cherokee Trail’s David Thornton figure to battle for the championship at the upcoming Class 5A state meet. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

“I’m just trying to get some good marks and go out with a bang this season,” he added.

These heights are nothing new to Campbell, a Penn State signee who placed fifth at state last season and second as a sophomore. It’s most definitely rarified air for Thornton, who missed state last season after he made it as a sophomore.

A basketball star at Cherokee Trail, Thornton has put his energy into the long jump more than ever in hopes of doing both in college.

He competed against Campbell head-to-head at the Aurora City Championships (where both topped out at 6-5), but it was the first meet of the season. Things have changed in a big way for both athletes in the last few weeks.

“He’s a great kid, he has the height and he has amazing form,” Thornton said of Campbell. “I think it’ll be a battle between me and him at state. The first time we were at the same meet we were both a little rusty, but we’re great athletes, we can do it.”

Campbell is also looking forward to that potential scenario. Nobody else in 5A has successfully jumped higher than 6-4 yet this season, a group that includes Rangeview’s EJ Reed.

Cherokee Trail senior David Thornton leads the state in the high jump at 7 feet after he came into the season taking the event more seriously than he ever has. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)
Cherokee Trail senior David Thornton leads the state in the high jump at 7 feet after he came into the season taking the event more seriously than he ever has. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

“I know David’s a great competitor, so it would awesome if we were the last two left at state,” Campbell said.

Some long-standing marks could fall to one or both of the Aurora stars. Jeff Martinez of Brighton has held the 5A state meet record of 7-2 since 1987, while Buena Vista’s Matt Hemingway set the overall state record of 7-4 in 1991.

While Thornton and Campbell have each other to compete against, Vista PEAK sophomore Maya Evans is in a class of her own in the long jump.

Evans put the state — and country — on notice with her performance at the Liberty Bell Invite.

A large meet that has been a great one for Aurora athletes in the past provided a big stage for Evans, last season’s 4A state champion in the long jump.

In the prelims, Evans launched a jump of 20 feet, 6 3/4 inches, a mark that not only set the meet record — topping the 20-1 1/2 mark set by her friend and former Denver East star Chyna Ries in 2013 — but gave her the best mark in the entire country.

According to national track & field database, Evans’ 20-6 3/4 matched the effort of Tara Davis of Augora High School at a meet in California, however Davis’ mark was wind-aided.

“It had been a couple of weeks since I jumped 20, so this was good,” Evans said. “Now I know I can do better every meet from now on. I guess 20-6 is good enough for me right now. Just for now.”

Evans scratched in the finals on a jump that was courtesy checked at 21-6, the mark that now is her goal for the final weeks of the season. Evans’ possible targets at the state meet are the 4A state meet record of 20-3 set by Niwot’s Griffin Matthew in 2005 and the all-state record of 21-3/4 recorded by Montbello’s Chelsea Taylor in 2005.

Vista PEAK coach Quinn Pack — who also works with Campbell on high jump — certainly relished Evans’ mark at the Liberty Bell meet, but valued as much the fun she had doing it.

“I was trying to tell her at the meet that sometimes you just have to relax and be confident in your ability to put up big numbers,” Pack said.

“Sometimes I think these kids put too much pressure on themselves and after it’s over, they are upset. Sometimes they take some of the fun and enjoyment out of it. I think she had a little bit of a fun, which is nice.”

Evans’ time of 24.44 seconds in the 200 meter finals at the Liberty Bell Invite — where she went head-to-head with star Arria Minor 5A Denver East — is the tops in 4A and she also has the best time in the classification in the 100  (11.92 seconds).

Cherokee Trail sophomore Sydnee Larkin leads 5A girls in the triple jump (38 feet, 4 1/2 inches with teammate Aumni Ashby third at 37-9) and Cherokee Trail senior KJ Sapp is the 5A boys leader in the long jump at 22-9, followed closely by Rangeview’s Hance Walker (22-3) and Hinkley’s Angel Heredia (22-1).

Throw in two Regis Jesuit pole vaulters ranked in the top 10 — Geoffrey Lord at 14-6 and Jason Lewis at 14-1 — and Aurora’s non-running events are stacked.

Outside of the jumping events, Grandview junior Brie Oakley is Aurora’s only other individual who leads the state. Oakley, a converted soccer player and the runner-up at the 5A state cross country meet in the fall, leads 5A in both the 1,600 and 3,200 meter runs.

AURORA STATE TRACK LEADERS (Through meets of April 23)

Boys  — High jump: David Thornton (Cherokee Trail), 7 feet; 4×100 meter relay: Cherokee Trail, 42.63 seconds; Long jump: KJ Sapp (Cherokee Trail), 22-9; Girls — 1,600 & 3,200 meters: Brie Oakley (Grandview), 4 minutes, 57.91 seconds & 10:46.98; 4×200 meter relay: Cherokee Trail, 1:41.33; Triple jump: Sydnee Larkin (Cherokee Trail), 38-4 1/2 inches; 4A — Long jump, 100 & 200 meters: Maya Evans (Vista PEAK), 11.92 seconds, 24.44 &  20-6 3/4