Denver Post preps editor Kyle Newman caught up with new CHSAA commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green, who is in her first month on the job.
Prior to being named CHSAA’s ninth commissioner in March, Blanford-Green was the assistant executive director at the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, the executive director at the Nebraska School Activities Association from 2012-15 and a CHSAA assistant commissioner/associate commissioner from 1996-2012.
The Honolulu native is a 1981 graduate of Aurora Central and was an All-American in track at the University of Nebraska.
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Blanford-Green discussed her upbringing in a military family, her career journey, her administrative philosophies and more.
On the influence of her well-traveled childhood …
“I moved my freshman year from Fairbanks, Alaska, and attended Aurora Central my sophomore through senior years. I’m an army brat, so I’ve been around — we lived in many states growing up, including Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Alaska and also Japan. Every three years or so, we moved.
“When you’re a child in a military family like that, one of the ways I always connected and became a part of the whole community was through athletics. Every state I was in, I did cheerleading; every state I was in, I did track — it made me realize athletics are an instant connector to other kids and the culture of a school. Because of that involvement, I never felt that isolation piece from all the moves.”
On her championship track career at Nebraska …
“I was recruited by several Division I schools, and I signed with Nebraska, sight-unseen. I had never been to the campus, but it was one of the best decisions I could have made in terms of my athletic career as well as growth as an individual. We had a lot of young and talented athletes there, but the coaches had the mindset of creating champions, so from my freshman year through my junior year, we were the national champions each year as a team. … All I know was at that time, Nebraska felt good, and I knew that it was close enough to Colorado so that I could come home if I was homesick or for holidays.”
On her experience coaching college track …
“I coached at the University of Wyoming before I ever went into the high school space, where for three years I was the assistant cross-country coach and assistant track coach in charge of men’s and women’s sprints and hurdles. And that time, through being placed on administrative committees and being part of different sides of administration in that job at Wyoming, made me know my career path was going to be on the administrative level more so than on the coaching level.
“After that, I coached in both Aurora Public Schools and Cherry Creek Public Schools and from then on, it was never going to be a question of whether I was going to be in athletics. It was just whether it was going to be on the interscholastic or intercollegiate level.”
On the roots of her prior 16-year stint at CHSAA …
“Bob Ottewill, who was the commissioner at the time, had over 100 applicants for two positions in 1995. And of the retirees, one was a female and one was a male. It was just starting to be accepted that women could lead in the state association offices, and so it was understood within the membership that they were absolutely going to hire a female because of the different sports being offered, and it was the right thing to do for representation within the office.
“When I was offered the position, I knew that Bob was taking a chance on a pretty green administrator — I was only 32 years old, which was pretty unheard of back then — and that was the opening of the door for me to not only prove myself, but to have a chance to move forward. From that day to when I left for Nebraska in 2012, all those experiences prepared me for the opportunity to be commissioner, as I got to work a lot in different areas with legislators, marketers and corporate partners with my strength of building those relationships.”
On being CHSAA’s first female and first African-American commissioner …
“Out of all the candidates that interviewed, there’s no question that what I bring to the table surpasses what the job expectations require. To be able to compliment the skill set and the competency with a diverse combination of gender and ethnicity speaks to how I can represent what leadership looks like in the state of Colorado. It’s always important for me for people to understand that I’ve paid my dues over the course of my professional journey, especially if you look at where I’ve been and my consistent dedication to keep kids first and to education-based athletics.”
On the driving factor throughout her [...]
Ralston Valley coach Matt Schoepflin witnesses the same trend every season. In an age where the already-pricey sport of hockey keeps getting pricier, talented and motivated young players are missing out on opportunities because the game, in ways that include team fees and equipment, is becoming cost prohibitive.
“I’ve had a lot families whose kids have played AAA in the past, but they just can’t afford it anymore,” Schoepflin said. “That made me realize hockey’s always been expensive, but in the last decade, it’s only gotten more expensive. I’m always exposed to different individuals and families that struggle financially to make our payments, or that need to be on payment plans.
“It got me to thinking that if there’s a way to give back and help out a little bit, I should do it.”
From that concern, Boost Hockey was born.
The T-shirt company that launched last Tuesday is a “hockey for a cause” movement, where every two weeks, Schoepflin works with a local player in need of financial help. Together they create a custom T-shirt to sell and the player’s campaign runs for two weeks, with 15 percent of the sales going straight to the player.
Schoepflin hopes to raise around $1,500 for each player; interested players can apply for assistance online and also benefit from cash donations on the site during their campaign. From those needing more money, from travel teams to players who are simply down on their luck — as is the case for the beneficiary of the first campaign, former Ralston Valley star Tony Salazar — Boost Hockey aims to keep young players on track toward their goals on the ice, and in stable situations off of it.
Salazar’s hardship hits particular close to home for Schoepflin, who coached the all-state selection in high school and has remained close to him throughout continued blot clot issues that derailed his college career at Metro State and forced him into retirement.
“With everything he’s gone through — and he’s still currently battling, because he has another blot clot in his heart at the moment — he still has a long road, and knowing the medical bills he’s accumulated just kind of led this to happen,” Schoepflin said. “It made me say, ‘Why not start this now, and start it with Tony?’ Because there are a lot of hockey players out there in need of help just like him.”
Salazar’s shirt reads Play for those who can’t and his No. 18 is incorporated into the design.
It’s a mantra that not only summarizes Salazar’s hockey identity — he was a unique brand of bruiser who was as well-known for his physicality and hustle as he was for his stick skills — but the motivations behind Boost Hockey as a whole.
“This game that I’ve dedicated my life to, and that I love — I hate the thought of a kid not getting the chance to experience that love because of money or some uncontrollable external factor,” Schoepflin said. “Hopefully, one campaign at a time, we can help get kids the opportunity to play.” [...]
As the Rapids’ U17/18 team begins play in the Development Academy championships on Friday evening in Carson, Calif., the club is on the cusp of making a major soccer statement for the state considering no Colorado team has ever won a Development Academy title.
Beyond that, the amateur club that’s enabled by the homegrown player rule — which allows MLS franchises to sign Development Academy players directly to first-team rosters — is also evidence of the professional team’s increased emphasis on developing and retaining grassroots talent.
“We’ve had two other teams that have done quite well with playoff runs in the Development Academy, and both of those teams had a pair of homegrown players,” explained Brian Crookham, the Rapids’ Senior Director of Soccer Development. “Our 2012 group that did well had Shane O’Neill and Dillon Serna, and our 2013 group had Kortne Ford and Ricardo Perez.
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“Clearly, the focus for us is the preparation of individual players to be able to eventually contribute to our professional team — but the on-field success of our academy team is generally an indicator of the level of talent within the group and their ability to affect games.”
Serna, Ford and Perez have all grown into contributors for the Rapids, as did O’Neill, who emerged as a reliable defender for the Rapids before the club sold him to Apollon Limassol in 2015.
O’Neill is now playing for the Dutch club NAC Breda, and serves as the epitome of the benefits the homegrown player rule gives to both MLS teams and rising American amateur players.
Development Academy teams are fully funded by the club and give youth players access to top-tier facilities as well as the opportunity to fast-track their professional ambitions, while MLS franchises can then reap the benefits of their investments because they own the rights to homegrown players and those players’ salaries don’t count against the cap when they initially come into the league.
“Stories like O’Neill’s are big for us to realize — he’s a homegrown player from Boulder who contributed greatly to our first team and was recognized for that, and we were able to move him on from there,” Crookham said. “That’s the ultimate pathway for these guys — from the Development Academy to the first team, and then creating a value for them on the world market.”
The U17/18 Rapids (seniors to be and graduated seniors) made a push to Friday’s semifinal match after sneaking into the backdoor of the Development Academy playoffs with the 20th overall seed and ninth of 11 wild-card spots.
Strikers Rhys DeSota (Grandview graduate, Stanford commit) and Enoch Mushagalusa (Denver South) combined for 29 goals for a potent one-two offensive punch. Meanwhile keeper Kainoa Likewise (Discovery Canyon) played big in net throughout the postseason while also doubling as the backup goalie for the Charlotte Independence, the Rapids’ USL affiliate.
“He signed an amateur contract and has been with them full-time since the beginning of June, and then he travels to meet us and play for us, too,” said Chris Martinez, the Rapids’ U17/18 coach. “Having him experience that pro environment on a day-to-day basis, and then for him to bring that experience back to our group, has been fantastic. ”
Martinez, a former Rapids player, took the coaching gig before this season after over 15 years of coaching with Real Colorado. He led the Real Colorado U15/16 team to the Development Academy semifinals last season, and now boasts an even more potent cast that includes DeSota and defensive stalwart Bailey Heller, both of whom followed Martinez over from Real.
“I think that last year in our semifinal loss, we weren’t mentally prepared for the other team to come out so fast-paced,” said Rhys DeSota. “This year, the players that were on that team learned from that, and now within this new group we’ve worked hard to develop our chemistry and belief in each other over the course of the season.”
The Rapids’ U17/18 team (16-7-7) is familiar with the other three squads left standing, especially semifinal opponent Texans SC Houston. The two [...]
Beth Buglione never set out to be a trailblazer.
A life-long football fan, Buglione has spent the past two decades doing everything she could to be a part of the sport she loves, whether it was as a player, as an official or even if it meant “carrying someone’s bag.”
But when Buglione, who moved to Firestone from Oregon in May, agreed to take the reins of the football program at Nederland High School in early June, she is believed to have become the first female head coach in Colorado history.
“It was never my intention to put a spotlight on me and to prove that women can do the job,” said Buglione, 52. “I was just following my passion.”
Read the whole story on Buglione at The Boulder Daily Camera. [...]
Denver Post preps editor Kyle Newman takes a look at top boys lacrosse club teams, players and tournaments of note for the 2017 summer season:
Team Colorado representing well
The all-star squads of Team Colorado 2020 (a U15 team run by the Lacrosse Outreach Foundation) and Team Colorado 2017 (a U19 team run by the Colorado High School Boys Lacrosse Coaches’ Association) each had solid outings in the past couple weeks in Vail.
Team Colorado 2020, led by coach Clark Woodard, placed sixth with a 3-3 showing in the High School Division at the Vail Lacrosse Tournament from June 19-21 on a team highlighted by attackman Nate Kay (Colorado Academy/3D), attackman Josh Yago (Arvada West/DoCo Wild), defenseman Jake Donaldson-Reid (Colorado Academy/DoCo Wild), longstick middle Pace Billings (Kent Denver/3D), and midfielder Jack Tuttle (Castle View/Denver Elite).
Meanwhile Team Colorado 2017, coached by Chris Knott and consisting of the state’s best just-graduated high school seniors, took fifth with a 3-2 performance in the U19 High School Boys Division at the Vail Lacrosse Shootout from June 25-28. One of the team’s losses came by two goals to eventual champion Laxachusetts, while tournament All-Stars Joey Soran (defender, Regis Jesuit/Penn State) and Aaron Boyd (midfielder, Mullen/Denver) helped the squad to victories over nationally elite programs in True Lacrosse, 3D National and the Minnesota Chill.
DoCo continues to expand its reach
DoCo Lacrosse, run by Denver Outlaws defenseman and Highlands Ranch High School head coach Matt Bocklet, continues to assert its status as one of the most talent-saturated clubs in the state. Adding to that assertion is the fact the club formerly known as Colorado Wild is now under the DoCo umbrella, with those teams playing as the DoCo Wild.
The club’s younger teams have largely dominated this summer — especially the DoCo Devils 2025, who have yet to lose a game in their age group while capturing tournament titles at the Colorado Cup, the Denver Shootout and most recently the Boom Town Classic — and DoCo’s high school teams have made noise, too.
The DoCo Devils 2018 feature midfielder Josh Bell (Castle View/Great Falls) and midfielder Ty Bradley (Monarch/Monmouth), while the DoCo Devils 2019 are headlined by the Highlands Ranch tandem of defenseman Dylan Davis (UMass) and attackman Brayden Lowe (Colorado Mesa).
Catch the World Series of Youth Lacrosse
In addition to his duties with DoCo and the Outlaws, Bocklet is also the head coach of the Team Colorado Outlaws, a U13 all-star team that qualified for the World Series of Youth Lacrosse from July 2-4.
The tournament takes place at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park with the championship to be played at Sports Authority Field, and Team Colorado Outlaws — which is sponsored by the Denver Outlaws and qualified for the World Series via a second-place finish at February’s Western Qualifier — has a good chance to make serious noise in the White Bracket against the elite likes of Team 91, Owasso Rams, BBL Elite, Edge Lacrosse and Cowboys Lacrosse Club.
The team is also coached by Trevor Tierney (Denver Elite) and Kevin O’Brien (3D Lacrosse), with a roster featuring some of the state’s top incoming sophomores as highlighted by midfielder Zack Newkirk, defender Mason Freeman, attackman David Provost and faceoff man Jacob Pacheco.
Head to the Adrenaline Lacrosse Western Shootout
The state’s premier tournament and recruiting event in the month of July — and the final opportunity for fans to see some of the top local and national lacrosse talent — is the Adrenaline Lacrosse Western Shootout, to be held July 15-16 at Aurora Sports Park. Hundreds of college coaches will be on hand to scout players across five divisions of play (Elite, High School, 2021, 2022/2023 and 2024/2025).
All of the state’s top clubs will have numerous teams competing at the shootout, including DoCo, Denver Elite, 3D Lacrosse, Denver Evolve and more.
Recapping local winners in Colorado’s June tournaments
2017 Colorado Cup, June 9-11, Commerce City
Tommyknockers — 2026 Champion
DoCo Devils 2025 — 2025 Champion
Wash Park Warriors — 2023 Champion
Evolve Elite 2024 — 2024 Champion
Colts Lacrosse Club — 2022 Champion
Doco Wild 2020 — Rising Stars Champion
Evolve Elite USA 2018 — Elite Champion
2017 Denver Shootout, June 16-18, Commerce City
Denver Elite 2018 Silver — 2018 Red Champion
DoCo Wild — 2019 Blue Champion
3D Colorado 2019 — 2019 Red Champion
Denver Elite 2020 Silver — 2020 Red Champion
Denver Elite 2022 Blue — 2022 Blue Champion
Wash Park Warriors — 2023 Boys Champion
DoCo Devils — 2025 Boys Champion [...]
Momentum Volleyball Club — already one of the state’s top volleyball programs — earned a signature tournament victory on Thursday in Minneapolis as the Momentum U15 team won the USA Volleyball Girls’ Junior National Championship.
Momentum U15 went 11-0 and lost just three sets in the Patriot Division over the course of the tournament, eventually beating another undefeated team, Forza U15 (Temecula, Calif.), 28-26, 14-25, 15-13 in the title match.
The victory marked the first Junior National Championship in Momentum Volleyball Club history and gave coach Elsa LeGrand’s squad the best showing of any Colorado team in the tournament, regardless of age group.
“It’s a huge win for the club — it gives you an extra chip on your shoulder, because we’re a club that’s being doing good things for a long time and to win a tournament like this is a nice reward for the whole club,” LeGrand said.
The title for a team highlighted by libero Brandi Montoya (Cherry Creek), middle blocker Payton Brgoch (Lutheran) and middle blocker Jaeda Davis-Golliher (Heritage) was even more sweet considering Momentum U15 didn’t even officially qualify for nationals in the first place.
The team also overcome adversity such as injuries and a death in the family of a player en route to the title.
“It was a crazy feeling, because our team didn’t earn a bid to nationals but our club still elected to send us to have another opportunity to compete and get recruited,” LeGrand said. “I was a little worried about our dynamic going in, but we all had the same mindset and were determined to finish the season on a high note. We definitely accomplished that.” [...]
The Colorado High School Activities Association is making a push for new officials this summer in the state’s latest effort to curb what has become a local and national shortage of high school officials.
At the center of that shortage, says CHSAA associate commissioner and head of officials Tom Robinson, is the simple fact that recruiting new officials has become increasingly difficult.
“In my own assessment, a lot of those past officials were educators and they were people who were in the schools on a daily basis, like coaches who would coach one sport and then officiate a different sport the next season,” Robinson said. “But somehow, that’s changed over time, just like the changed standard of a lot of coaches no longer being in the building.
“Officials now are coming from all walks of life, so how do you pinpoint the exact demographic so we can target them? It’s not clear cut.”
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Local officials’ organizations that work CHSAA sports have developed classes for potential recruits, where those interested in taking up the craft can go through training and get registered to work high school games. Classes begin in late June and run through mid-August for all sports across the state.
“We’re trying to figure out the best way to address this, but the issue is we have no clue what to do, or where to go, or how to do it,” Robinson said. “We hope this push generates some results, but we also know there are certain things barring qualified people from officiating in the first place or from coming back to do it.”
Robinson surveyed about 1,400 officials who worked for CHSAA in 2015-16 but elected not to return for the 2016-17 year.
While low pay and abuse from fans and coaches were the primary reason for some to walk away, Robinson said career and/or family demands is the leading reason for lack of retainment.
For now, though, the state hopes its latest recruitment push works as CHSAA continues to find ways to make do with its shrinking pool of officials.
“We stretch our crews thin, and what we’ve done in collaboration with the schools — particularly during basketball season — is scheduling in reverse,” Robinson said. “Instead of schools putting schedules together and then assigning officials to those games, we decided to identify what days were the heaviest days and try ahead of time to move teams off of those dates so that we’re assigning games six days a week instead of two.”
Robinson said complaints about officials haven’t raised due to the shortage over the past half-decade, a fact he credits to the amount of veterans that are among the condensed officiating workforce at fields and courts across Colorado.
He also emphasized a culture shift might be necessary in order to restock the state.
“It’s about the notion that anyone and everyone can officiate sports, from youth sports all the way through high school sports,” said Robinson, who officiated at the collegiate level. “That sort of widespread thought process might help the shortage.” [...]
The Colorado Fireworks/Sparkler Tournament is underway this week at sites across Aurora and Westminster, with hundreds of top club softball teams descending upon Colorado for one of Triple Crown’s premier national tournaments.
Denver Post preps editor Kyle Newman takes a look at five teams to watch throughout the rest of the tournament:
Triple Crown Stars Gold (18U Power Pool)
With the state’s most dominant pitcher in Ali Kilponen (Valor Christian) and a stacked roster that also features the likes of catcher/first baseman Emily Taggart (Legacy), outfielder Tara Shadowen (Mountain View) and outfielder Mia Moddelmog (Fossil Ridge), TCS Gold has an opportunity to improve upon last season’s ninth-place finish at nationals. TCS Gold went 1-1 on the first day of the tournament, losing 5-4 to Diamond Sports Hotshots and beating Impact Gold HTX 6-1.
Colorado Styxx Gold Severtson (18U Power Pool)
Power-hitting first baseman Kailey Wilson (Eaglecrest), smooth-handed shortstop Lauren Foster (Valor Christian) and ever-clutch outfielder Chloe Knapp (Cherokee Trail) highlight a potent Styxx lineup that also features premier pitching in Rio Sanchez (Erie) and Emily Bell (Cherokee Trail). The Styxx went 0-2 on the first day of the tournament, losing to Lil Rebels RC 5-3 and to Aces Gold 6-1.
Colorado Angels Gold (18U Open)
Coach John Waller leads a squad that is largely underrated on the club circuit, as position players such as catcher/shortstop Zoe Mihalicz (Legend), outfielder Adrienne Visintine (Chaparral) and outfielder Lauren Strathearn (Legacy) make the team a contender. The Angels begin tournament play on Wednesday morning against Fever Fastpitch in Westminster.
Colorado Next Level Gold (18U Power Pool)
This is a team that has already proven it can hang with, and beat, other elite Colorado clubs — as evidenced by their triumph over the Colorado Styxx in the championship game of the ASA Stazio Tournament at the end of May — for players like infielder Charlie Rose Davis (Mullen), catcher Sloane Stewartson (Rock Canyon), outfielder Jesse Smith (Legend) and pitcher Jennie Romero (Columbine) give the squad ample ammunition. Next Level Gold went 1-1 on the first day of the tournament, beating Firecrackers HTX Gold 10-7 and losing 7-6 to Texas CF Intruders Gold.
Colorado Next Level Gold (16U Supplemental Power Pool)
One of the top 16U teams in the state, coach Barb Duran’s team is headlined by a pair of sisters in pitcher Hailey Litwin and first baseman Tori Litwin, both of whom attend Brighton, as well as infielder Taryn Moan (Grandview). Next Level Gold went 0-1 on the first day of the tournament, losing 5-2 to the St. Louis Chaos.
For a full list of brackets and results from the Colorado Fireworks/Sparkler Tournament, which concludes on Sunday, click here. [...]
Monarch senior distance runner Isaac Green and Denver East sophomore sprinter Arria Minor were each named the 2016-17 Colorado Gatorade Track & Field Athlete of the Year on Thursday morning.
Green, a University of Washington commit, won 2017 Class 5A individual titles in the 800-, 1600-, and 3200-meters in addition to his role on the Coyotes’ state-best 4×800 relay. He is the first Monarch athlete to win Gatorade Player of the Year honors.
The performance capped a sensational prep career for Green, who is also a two-time cross-country state champion and a guy who has character that’s “above most 18-year-olds. The way he talks to people, his concern for other people, his concern for his teammates — that’s what makes him a special person,” according to Monarch coach Kent Rieder.
Meanwhile, Minor continues to rack up the accolades following her repeat 5A title showings in the 100-, 200- and 400-meters this season.
The phenom has a chance to end up being the best girls sprinter the state has ever seen thanks to a deadly combination of natural ability and an indomitable work ethic as she keeps developing into a nationally-renowned talent. [...]
Lorne Donaldson first burst onto the soccer scene as a 17-year-old on the Jamaican National Team. He’s currently the head coach of the Jamaican U20 Women’s National Team. The 61-year old still clearly has a lot of homeland pride, and tends to wear the yellow, black and green flag all over his clothes whenever he’s not roaming the pitches as the Executive Director of Coaching for Real Colorado.
But as Donaldson’s career flourished in the Mile High City — first as a three-time All-American at Metro State following his arrival in the U.S. in 1980, then by earning two American Professional Soccer League championships in his time as head coach of the Colorado Foxes, and a two-year stint as a Colorado Rapids assistant coach after that — even he admits the game shifted his self-identity.
“Colorado has become a part of me,” Donaldson said. “Jamaica is still home but it’s now my second home, because I’ve been in Denver for longer than I lived in Jamaica. I’ve seen the city grow from where there was really no soccer, per se, into a big-time soccer state.”
And just as Donaldson has become a Coloradan, the state, too, has gained much from him.
Donaldson is one of the primary architects of Colorado’s current girls soccer power, Real Colorado, the state’s crowning club jewel thanks to consistent winning and multitudes of professional and national team players such as Mallory Pugh and Janine Beckie.
Donaldson started Real Colorado as the Douglas County Blast in 1997. Since then the program has grown to more than 450 teams and become a national soccer force.
“I think I’ve become a part of the Real brand, so when I leave here, I see myself as basically done and retired,” Donaldson said. “There’s been a lot of great coaches and great players who have come through this program. Nothing lasts forever, but I’m grateful to have had the chance to build this program and build the sport in this state.”
And this week, Real Colorado has five girls teams competing in the ECNL Champions League playoffs as the club continues to chase its first ECNL title. The U14s, U15s, U16s, U17s and U19s are all currently in Rockford, Ill., battling to become just the second Colorado club to win an ECNL title. (The Colorado Rush U15s did so in 2012.)
Star striker Sophie Smith and reigning Colorado Gatorade Girls Soccer Player of the Year Shae Holmes leads an explosive U17 side that features a stockpile of the state’s best prep players, while the U19s — a group that was the national runner-up last year at U17 — are paced by recent U18 U.S. Women’s National Team call-up Tess Boade as well as Jaelin Howell, who has been a rising star in the national team system.
“We have to play well, but in a championship round, you have to be a little bit lucky at times, too,” Donaldson said. “To win a championship and know that these are the best players in the country — that’s always special. We’ve been close, and we’ve been to a lot of finals. This could be the year one of our teams pulls it out.”
The Colorado Youth Soccer Hall of Fame member and co-founder of the Black Soccer Coaches Association of America is driven by two factors: to spread the joy of the beautiful game, and to make soccer a conduit to life success.
“We’ve sent over 1,000 players to college on scholarship since I started Real, and if I’m going to be proud of one thing, that’s certainly it,” Donaldson said. “That’s what the players strive for. Yes, we’ve had lots of national team players and professional players, but I’m more proud of how we’ve put players through college and help mold them into great women and men.” [...]
ThunderRidge’s Shae Holmes was named the 2016-17 Colorado Gatorade Girls Soccer Player of the Year on Monday morning, capping a stellar junior season for the striker who netted 20 goals and seven assists in just a dozen games played.
Holmes, a University of Washington commit, also participated in the U18 U.S. Women’s National Team camp during the high school season and is a standout on the Real Colorado ECNL U17 team.
Real Colorado is ranked fifth in the ECNL’s Champions League cup standings and, with Holmes anchoring the defense, figures to make noise in the league’s upcoming playoffs.
The Grizzlies made the Class 5A state tournament with Holmes leading the way, where they lost 1-0 in the second round to eventual runner-up Arapahoe. [...]
In local summer basketball, June is typically reserved for high schoolers to take a break from playing for their respective clubs and come together with their high school teams. Preps editor Kyle Newman breaks down five takeaways from this month’s high school girls basketball action:
Grandview’s reloaded once again
Even after graduating Michaela Onyenwere — who has been the state’s best player, hands down, over the past several seasons — Grandview’s summer roster proves the Wolves are ready to make a repeat Class 5A title run this winter. Senior forward Leilah Vigil, senior shooting guard Jaiden Galloway, junior center Alisha Davis and junior guard Allyah Marlett are seasoned and skilled, plus the Wolves have added a dynamic freshman to the mix in Addison O’Grady.
“Addison’s very skilled, athletic and fits in well with our group,” Grandview coach Josh Ulitzky said. “Plus, she’s 6-3 with long arms, she can defend well and she’s solid around the basket. She’s been a great addition to our team.”
Belibi makes Regis Jesuit a front-runner
Dunking phenom Fran Belibi, who is spending her summer traveling across the country and world to take part in elite camps and play high-level hoops — including winning a gold medal in Argentina at the FIBA U16 Women’s Americas Championship — automatically makes the Raiders a 5A state title front-runner.
Plus, she’s surrounded by experienced senior guard Jasmine Gaines, senior center Noelle Cahill and sophomore point guard Jada Moore, in addition to highly-touted freshman point guard Avery Van Sickle.
“I’ve been telling people — you have to see this Van Sickle girl play,” Regis Jesuit coach Carl Mattei said. “She can handle the ball well, she can shoot the lights out with spot-up jumpers, fadeaways and runners. She played with Fran, Highlands Ranch’s Autumn Watts and Cherry Creek’s Jana Van Gytenbeek at the 3-on-3 tournament down with USA Basketball this summer, and as one of the only eighth graders there she helped them get to the finals.”
Cherry Creek changes up the pace
After a semifinal run last season, Cherry Creek’s in-state play this month at the Grandview Tournament and the UNC Team Camp, among others, has proved the Bruins are reloaded for another deep 5A tournament push.
Senior shooting guard Sydney Mech, sophomore point guard Jana Van Gytenbeek and senior forward Jaela Richardson highlight the dynamic core of the Bruins lineup as Cherry Creek heads to Notre Dame Team Camp this weekend and continues to hone their new up-tempo approach.
“We’re a little bit more fast-paced than last year, because we’re not quite as big,” Cherry Creek coach Chris Curneen said. “We have to run a little bit more and make more jumpers, but we can also press a little more and go up-tempo a little more. It’s different for our players, but I think it’s going to be good because it fits their style.”
Delaynie Byrne’s ready to make it rain
After having to sit out last season due to transfer, Ralston Valley’s Delaynie Byrne is poised for a breakout campaign. Byrne averaged 13.6 points and 6.7 rebounds as a sophomore at Broomfield, and can play inside and outside for a Mustangs team that is young, yet talented. The senior has also turned plenty of heads lately on the club circuit with BC Denver Basketball, and she’ll look to her 2018 Elite teammate, senior point guard Samantha Van Sickle, to help her catalyze the Mustangs offensively.
“I’ve got five starters, with Delaynie leading the way. I’m trying to find the sixth, seventh and eighth players who will also help us out this year,” Ralston Valley coach Jeff Gomer said. “We’ll have to have those contributions off the bench, especially during league and tournament games.”
Other usual suspects will also challenge
Highlands Ranch is again looking primed to add to coach Caryn Jarocki’s already historic legacy, with senior point guard Tommi Olson and junior power forward Autumn Watts headlining a Falcons roster that figures to once again be one of the deepest in the state. Lakewood, too, has used the summer to show the 2016 5A state runner-ups aren’t going anywhere thanks to the return of 6-4 twin towers Kira and Camilla Emsbo.
Plus, Front Range League teams such as Fairview and Horizon and Denver Public League squads George Washington and Denver East have also made some noise this June. [...]
In local summer basketball, June is typically reserved for high schoolers to take a break from playing for their respective clubs and come together with their high school teams. Preps editor Kyle Newman breaks down five takeaways from this month’s high school boys basketball action:
Overland’s capable of another crown
Coach Danny Fisher’s Blazers, winners of back-to-back Class 5A titles in 2014 and 2015, are reloaded once again following last winter’s learning curve.
Overland captured titles at the C3 Challenge (at multiple sites in the south metro area) last weekend and the Metro State Tournament the weekend before that, proving that senior point guard Tucson Redding, senior shooting guard Daijon Smith, junior shooting guard Stephen Hayes and the rest of the Blazers are ready to make another deep postseason push.
“We’re starting to get really good continuity and cohesiveness together as a group,” Fisher said. “They’re used to playing with each other because we’re basically returning everyone, so we know we’re going to have a leg up there.”
Denver East’s a serious title challenger, too
After falling in the Great 8 to eventual state champion Eaglecrest last year, coach Rudy Carey has the Angels in position to capture the program’s 12th state championship, which would give the Angels the most boys hoops titles of any Colorado school.
Denver East returns nine players with varsity experience and is led by one of the state’s top scorers in senior point guard Daylen Kountz as well as other key components such as junior guard Kwane Marble and junior forward Assane Diouf. The Angels do not play in any summer tournaments, instead electing to compete in its own East Summer League against Legacy, Far Northeast, Fairview, Hinkley and more.
“Our kids are always spread out too thin to play summer tournaments, and it’s not a true representation of our team,” Carey said. “But I know, with everyone we have back, we’re going to be the rabbit this year. Everyone will be chasing the rabbit.”
Other usual suspects looking strong
This month also proved that despite the departure of talent crucial to last season’s success, Regis Jesuit (three-time state champion) and ThunderRidge (two-time state champion) will be back in the title conversation this winter.
Coach Joe Ortiz’s Grizzlies leaned on senior point guard Kaison Hammonds and ever-improving junior Kevin Sax down in the post while impressing opposing coaches this June. And for Regis Jesuit, despite the graduation of point guard Connor Hobbs and the transfer of standout forward Samba Kane out of state, coach Ken Shaw expects his team to find its identity by wintertime.
“Guys like Elijah Martinez, Matt Wheelock and Sam Bannec will be big this year, but more importantly, the summer’s been great for developing a lot of our role players too and seeing who else is going to round out the starting lineup,” Shaw said.
Rising programs keep on rising
If this summer has been any indication, expect programs who made big waves last year to continue their ascent into the 2017 season.
Rock Canyon, which made the 5A semifinals last season and won the UNC team camp this month in Greeley, boasts the senior point guard duo of Sam Masten and Tyson Gilbert. Smoky Hill, which returns every starter from last season’s Sweet 16 run, is highlighted by the 6-foot-11 senior tandem of Will Becker and John Harge. And Chaparral, another 2016 Sweet 16 contender, has also made its presence felt this summer thanks to the play of sophomore point guard Kobe Sanders and junior forward Ronnie DeGray III.
The success of all three aforementioned programs doesn’t hinge upon star power, though; it’s all about depth and toughness in the parity-laden 5A landscape.
“We’ve been a senior-led group the last couple years, which has been a great thing for us,” Rock Canyon coach Kent Grams said. “But our bench, as most coaches would probably say, needs to get tougher. We need to make sure we’re doing a better job on the defensive side and understand that if we don’t put an emphasis on rebounding, we’re going to lose a lot of games.”
Teams outside metro area also potent
Palmer was the last team outside the Denver metro area to win the Class 5A state title, in 2000, but June has proven a number of teams from up north and down south are ready to make a run.
Front Range League contenders Legacy and Fairview drew praise from a number of metro coaches who came across their path, while defending Colorado Springs Metro League champion Doherty — under the direction of new coach Eric Steinert — will also challenge behind the play of senior guard Kyrele Benford and senior forward Joseph Golden.
“I didn’t know they were as solid as they were with their leng [...]