AURORA | Another fantastic year of prep sports took place around Aurora in 2017, which was highlighted by a sweep of the Class 5A boys team and individual state golf championships.
Here are some of the finest moments from the second half of a year that saw a combined 18 state championships plus 28 runner-up finishes for Aurora prep teams and individuals:
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
EAGLECREST’S DAVIS BRYANT, REGIS JESUIT FOURSOME GIVE AURORA PROGRAMS CLEAN SWEEP OF CLASS 5A STATE GOLF CHAMPIONSHIPS
Nobody was more excited than Aurora golfers when it was revealed the Class 5A boys state golf tournament would be played at CommonGround Golf Course.
Together with unfavorable weather conditions — at least for the first day — CommonGround put up a fight over two days, but in the end locals walked away with the two biggest prizes Oct. 3, as Eaglecrest senior Davis Bryant took 5A’s individual title and Regis Jesuit’s Cal McCoy, Cameron Kirke, Drew Anderson and Walker Fuller won the team title.
With two sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles and his parents there to watch, pressure mounted on Eaglecrest’s Davis Bryant in the final round of the Class 5A boys state golf tournament.
All eyes were on Bryant — as cool a customer as you’ll find on a golf course — and the last group and the Raptors’ senior never blinked on the final stretch of holes that earned him a long sought-after state title.
Ever since he finished second at last season’s 5A state tournament, Bryant had worked towards this day. He was glad to share it with family and a throng of supporters from his school who turned out to watch.
“I think there were about a dozen of us in the family out there,” said Bryant, who finished 3-under-par for the tournament with rounds of 70 and 69.
“It was a little bit more pressure with them there because you want to play well and have a good finish, but at the same time I tried to put it off to the side and say ‘there is a job to do,’” he added.
“There was a little bit more added pressure, but it was cool to have everyone around.”
The Bryant clan had a lot to be proud of in the play of Bryant, who eventually prevailed in a see-saw battle with his playing partners in the final group, Dillon Stewart of Fossil Ridge and Grand Junction’s Canon Olkowski.
Bryant faced a stroke deficit to Stewart — a good friend who he played with over the summer representing Colorado at the Junior America’s Cup tournament — coming into the final round and eventually caught up by playing steady as he always does while his competitors gave in to frustration.
The win also put a permanent grin on the face of longtime Eaglecrest golf coach Stan Adams, who was thrilled for Bryant and the new standard he’d set for the program.
“It took 28 years, but we finally have a state golf champion,” Adams said. “It is really fun to watch a kid that is really dialed in on his craft. He went wire-to-wire this season and wasn’t beaten. That’s tough to do in any sport, so he really dominated.”
Meanwhile, Regis Jesuit delivered coach Craig Rogers a third straight 5A state championship and seventh in the past eight seasons.
The Raiders took a four-stroke lead in to the final day, pushed it as high as 13 strokes and watched it drop down to as few as five in the late stages of the final round before its total of plus-16 442 won it by a comfortable seven strokes over Cherry Creek.
McCoy, a member of Regis Jesuit’s last three championship teams, punctuated the performance by draining a long putt on Hole No. 18 and pumped his fist in front of the large number of Raiders’ supporters.
McCoy came into the second day in position to make a run at the individual title, but his 74 — which followed a 1-under-par 70 on the opening day — brought him five strokes behind Bryant in a tie for fourth with Arapahoe’s Tommy Packer.
Kirke had at least a share of the individual lead on two occasions in his state debut for Regis Jesuit and shot 76 on the final day to finish in a tie for 11th. Anderson, whose second round showing in 2016 helped the Raiders to a tight win, again provided a good third score with a 4-over 75.
IN MIKE SCHMITT’S FINALE AS HEAD COACH, EAGLECREST FALLS TO POMONA 56-49 IN CLASS 5A STATE FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP SHOOTOUT
Forty-nine points would have been enough to win 23 of the 25 Class 5A state football championship games since Eaglecrest won its state title in 1993.
Unfortunately for the Raptors, one of the two instances when it wasn’t enough came Dec. 2, when Pomona put up 56 points at Mile High Stadium to beat Eaglecrest 56-49 in the highest-scoring 5A state championship game in history.
Senior quarterback Jalen Mergerson’s rushing touchdown with 1 minute, 11 seconds, left in regulation made it a seven-point game, but coach Mike Schmitt’s Eaglecrest team couldn’t recover an onside kick and Pomona got the first down it needed to run out the clock.
“It’s always tough to take a loss at the end of the season, but you can’t be sad about a game like that,” Mergerson said of a game that shattered the previous 5A title game record of 81 points put by Cherry Creek and Arvada West in 1996.
“That was the two best teams going toe-to-toe and it was basically who could make the biggest play at the biggest time. They got the best of us, but it was great for this senior class to leave this legacy.”
In battle of programs that sought the second all-time state football titles in school history, the Panthers (12-2) ended up snapping a drought that stretched back to 1988 — and included losses to Valor Christian in the 2015 and 2016 finals — while the Raptors saw one extended that goes back to 1993.
Eaglecrest — the first city program to play in the 5A state championship game since Cherokee Trail in 2012 — also saw a second straight undefeated season end in the postseason and finished 13-1.
Senior Kenny Wantings rushed for 200 yards and three touchdowns, Mergerson threw TD passes to Corey Corbin and Dawson Macomber and rushed for a score and Sam Onilenla returned a fumbled kickoff to the end zone for the Raptors.
Eaglecrest got to the championship game with a thrilling 32-31 double overtime win over Columbine in the semifinals, a game that ended when Mergerson threw a touchdown pass to senior Theryne Sandoval-Jimenez and hit the same target with a winner-take-all two-point conversion attempt that ended the game.
A couple of days after the championship game, Schmitt stepped down from the head football job for a pre-planned move with his family to Pennsylvania.
REGIS JESUIT HAS PAIR OF BOYS TENNIS DOUBLES CHAMPS
A tight battle at the Class 5A boys state tennis tournament went all the way to the end Oct. 14 before Regis Jesuit ended up third in a three-team race.
The No. 1 doubles team of seniors Will Dennen and Patrick Seby and the No. 2 doubles tandem of junior Evan Nuss and sophomore Emilio Gonzalez-Cruz won state titles on the final day of play at Denver’s Gates Tennis Center.
The final day the state tournament included a whole lot of mathematical possibilities for coach Laura Jones’ team. The Raiders trailed Fairview by two points and Cherry Creek by with 17 potential points in front of them, with several different scenarios leading to their first state championship since 2010.
With state championship wins from Dennen and Seby and the No. 2 doubles tandem of Nuss and Gonzalez-Cruz — who won their second straight championship together — Regis Jesuit picked up six points, but the Knights collected nine and the Bruins added eight to hold off the Raiders in one of the tightest three-way races in several years.
Fairview had two singles state champions and three third-place doubles teams that contributed to the program’s first-ever state championship and snapped Cherry Creek’s six-year run as state champs.
“Overall, it’s a little disappointing to finish third, but the hunt was so close that I feel like it could have gone either way,” said Laura Jones, whose team scored as their most points at state (65) since the 83 they put up in winning the 2010 state title.
“I’m happy for Fairview; they were kindof my pick if we couldn’t win,” she added. “I’m so glad they won for the first time in the history of their school.”
Regis Jesuit team had 5A runner’s up at No. 2 singles in junior Kosta Garger and at No. 3 doubles (seniors Matthew McCarthy and Gabe Caldwell-Nepveux) and No. 4 doubles (seniors Matthew Mahoney and James O’Connor), while freshman Phillip Albright placed fourth at No. 3 singles.
GRANDVIEW DEALS VALOR CHRISTIAN HISTORIC LOSS IN QUARTERFINALS OF CLASS 5A STATE FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS, OPENS DOOR FOR NEW CHAMP
When it comes to big wins the whole state of Colorado can appreciate, few do it better than coach John Schultz and his Grandview football team.
Schultz’s Wolves ended then-powerhouse Mullen’s 34-game winning streak in 2011 and on Nov. 17 it became the one to strike a blow for the state by knocking Valor Christian off its lofty perch.
With its defense and running game in full playoff mode, eighth-seeded Grandview overcame a slow start to record a 28-16 Class 5A state quarterfinal victory over the top-seeded, previously unbeaten and defending 5A state champion Eagles, who won’t appear in a state final for the first time since 2008.
The Wolves became the first Colorado team to beat Valor Christian three times (moving to 3-4 all-time in the series between the teams) and moved into the 5A semifinals, where they will face fourth-seeded Pomona. The Panthers (10-2) — who suffered one of their two losses to Valor Christian during the regular season — topped No. 5 Fairview 48-31.
“We came in here to shock the world and nobody believed in us except us,” Grandview senior quarterback Kyle Smith said. “We came in, believed in each other and got it done…It feels great, I don’t have words to describe it.”
Added Schultz, whose team also snapped Valor Christian’s 22-game winning streak that dated back to a Sept. 23, 2016 loss to Pomona: “This is our first win here, so that is a great accomplishment. It’s tough to play here, you really feel uncomfortable, but we finally got it done.”
Smith threw a touchdown pass to Dayne Prim, junior Jordan Billingsley rushed for 200 yards and a touchdown and seniors Prentice Wilson and Gunner Gentry rushed for scores as the Wolves climbed out of a 10-0 hole in the second quarter with 28 straight points.
Grandview fell to Pomona 42-20 the following week in the 5A semifinals.
CHEROKEE TRAIL CHEER TEAM WINS 5A STATE TITLE
The Cherokee Trail cheer team had been cheering for everybody else since the start of the school year.
On Dec. 9 at the Denver Coliseum, the applause was all for them.
Coach Kelsey Rauh’s Cherokee Trail team posted the top score in the Dec. 8 prelims to earn one of six spots in the finals — along with Smoky Hill — and finished it off with a score of 87.85.
Cherokee Trail received the best score of any team in the cheer portion of the finals (49.45) and it helped lift the Cougars clear of runner-up Rock Canyon. The Jaguars had the highest raw score, but two deductions dropped them to 86.35 total.
It was the first state cheer championship in Cherokee Trail program history and the first for an Aurora-area program since 2015 when Eaglecrest and Grandview finished 1-2. The Wolves lead the state with 11 state spirit titles all-time, followed by the Raptors with nine.
Smoky Hill finished sixth with a total score of 80.7.
Aurora had the runners-up in both the poms competition (Grandview) and hip-hop event (Eaglecrest).
OVERLAND GYMNASTICS TEAM LEADS BRIEFLY, FINISHES AS RUNNER-UP TO POMONA AT CLASS 5A STATE GYMNASTICS MEET
By the most razor thin of margins — as little as a slight wobble or extra hop — the Overland gymnastics team saw the Class 5A state championship get away Thursday.
The Trailblazers closed with a flourish in the second half of the meet at Thornton High School, but ended up behind Pomona by just an agonizing 0.025 of a point in the closest state meet in recent memory.
Even with a zero from one of their best gymnasts in the final event, the Panthers put up a score of 188.075 to the 188.050 of coach Lisa Sparrow’s Overland team to extend their reign over 5A to three straight seasons.
The Trailblazers — a mix of gymnasts for schools all across Aurora and nearby — collected the runner-up trophy for a second straight season.
With another outstanding team performance in the floor exercise — including the top score of 9.750 by senior Christie Yee (Cherokee Trail) — Overland moved into the lead after the Panthers lost a score due to a rules violation.
Pomona’s scores on the uneven bars were just slightly better than the Trailblazers’ results in the vault to deny Overland its first title since 2014.
‘NO FLY ZONE’ DEFENSE HELPS GRANDVIEW BOYS SOCCER TEAM REACH 5A STATE SEMIFINALS BEFORE OT LOSS TO DENVER EAST
The Grandview boys soccer team isn’t yet at a point where it expects to be in the Class 5A state semifinals every year, but perhaps 2017 was a beginning.
The Wolves exceeded all expectations with their run to the Final Four, which ended on Nov. 8 in a 1-0 overtime loss to Denver East on at frosty EchoPark Automotive Stadium.
In a battle of the two stingiest defenses in the state all season, Denver East finally broke through five minutes into the first extra period to earn a spot in the 5A state championship game Saturday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, where it will oppose seventh-seeded Broomfield, a 3-1 winner over No. 3 Fort Collins.
“Denver East outplayed us tonight, they were the better team,” Grandview coach Brian Wood said.
While missing out on a trip to the championship game, Wood’s team finished 16-3 overall, won the Centennial League championship and put the program in the 5A semifinals for the first time since 2007, when it lost to Smoky Hill in the final.
Grandview’s appearance in the semifinals capped a strong boys soccer season for Aurora that also saw Hinkley (EMAC) and Regis Jesuit (Continental) win league championships.
EAGLECREST POWERS WAY TO CLASS 5A STATE SOFTBALL SEMIFINALS BEFORE FALLING TO FOSSIL RIDGE IN SLUGFEST AURORA SPORTS PARK
One inning into Saturday’s Class 5A state semifinal contest, it looked like every one other game for the Eaglecrest softball team during its fantastic season.
A day after piling up 27 runs in two mercy-rule shortened wins at the Aurora Sports Park, the top-seeded Raptors put up a five-spot in the opening inning against fourth-seeded Fossil Ridge with a rally that included a grand slam by senior Braelyne Crenshaw.
The end result of the game, however, was quite different than Eaglecrest was used to, however. Coach Yvette Hendrian’s club launched a seven-run rally in the final inning, but didn’t do enough in between to avoid a heartbreaking 20-16 loss to the SaberCats, who went on to fall to 10th-seeded Legend in the state title game.
The Raptors’ only defeat to a Colorado team — which they beat 7-2 in the regular season — brought to an end a 22-2 season and ended shy of the program’s first trip to the 5A state championship game since it won the title in 2005. Eaglecrest also lost in last season’s semifinal to rival Cherokee Trail.
Returning from injury, Eaglecrest slugger Kailey Wilson finished 3-for-4 to cap a season in which the Creighton University signee hit a state-best .738 and drove in 53 runs.
AURORA CROSS COUNTRY RUNNERS MAKE IT ON PODIUM
The Class 5A boys and girls state cross country meet on Oct. 28 at the Norris Penrose Equestrian Center in Colorado Springs produced a combined two All-State — top seven — performances and three podium spots (top 10) for Aurora runners.
In the girls race, Regis Jesuit sophomore Isalina Colsman produced the highest finish in the history of her program when she crossed the finish line in a solid seventh place, a 10-spot jump from the previous season. Grandview junior Kaitlyn Mercer (the Aurora city champion) joined Colsman on the medal podium with a 10th-place finish, which she got by beating Cherokee Trail junior Caitlin McConnell to the finish line.
Eaglecrest senior Mason Brown recorded his program’s best state finish as well when he grabbed fourth place in a tightly-contested boys race. Brown, the Aurora City champion, reached his goal of a top-five result that bettered the Raptors’ previous top results as two runners had been seventh.