Athletic director Craig Lyle poses Aug. 10 at Vista PEAK High School in Aurora. The newest high school in the Aurora Public Schools district debuts with full varsity sports in the 2012-13 school year. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)
Vista PEAK junior Isamar Quijada digs for a ball during practice Friday afternoon, Aug. 10 near Harvest Road and East 6th Avenue. The newest high school in the Aurora Public Schools district debuts with full varsity sports in the 2012-13 school year. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)
Bison can only be contained for so long.
Vista PEAK is on the verge of its first season of varsity athletics, and the excitement is palpable at Aurora’s newest high school in the northeast corner of the city with the Bison mascot.
For athletic director Craig Lyle and several coaches who have waited patiently for the past two years, the fruits of their labor can’t come fast enough.
“When we first started, we were excited to know we would have the kids for two years before their first varsity game,” said Vista PEAK football coach Pat Rock, who has been around since Day One.
“It has been a longer wait than I anticipated,” he added. “You know it’s going to be long, but you don’t know how long.”
Vista PEAK — which won’t have its first senior class until next year and has just over 600 students in a building that’s just over a year old — is Aurora’s first new addition to the varsity prep sports scene since Cherokee Trail in 2004-05.
The Bison belong to the newly formed Colorado 7 conference, a geographically diverse group that also includes Elizabeth, Englewood, Fort Lupton, Fort Morgan, Skyview and Weld Central. All Vista PEAK sports will compete in Class 4A with the exception of football, which starts in 3A.
The first varsity team outing for a Vista PEAK came Aug. 14 when coach Michael Dougherty’s boys golf team played in a Colorado 7 meet at Spring Valley Golf Club — led by Bryce Lang’s 98 — but the anticipation will really come to a head Aug. 24 with the football team’s debut.
A tailgate party will kick off the celebration, then spirit buses will whisk students and faculty over to Aurora Public Schools Stadium for a 6 p.m. kickoff against Hinkley.
The game has the spotlight as Aurora’s only Zero Week contest.
“There’s nervous anticipation; we’re excited to see them against varsity competition,” Lyle said. “There’s still a lot unknown as to how we match up.”
Getting Vista PEAK to this point has been painstaking for Lyle, who played baseball for distinguished coach Tony Schenbeck at Overland High School and feels fortunate to have the chance to build a program in an area he is familiar with.
“I definitely wanted this position because of my passion for athletics and everything it does for young adults,” Lyle said. “I grew up in this area and coach Schenbeck was a big influence in my life, so that’s why I wanted to do this.”
Once he had the job, Lyle and district athletic director Tony Antolini set about hiring a coaching staff. They found a large pool of candidates eager for the challenge to build a program, many with ties to other district schools.
The staff they originally constructed included Rock and cross country coach Josh Cooley — both previously of Gateway — boys and girls soccer coach Jason Elliott and tennis coach Simon Moorwood, who each had experience at Rangeview, and several others from nearby schools.
Facilities are now something Vista PEAK can boast about — among them two huge gymnasiums, a massive, state-of-the-art weight room and a turf football practice field — but it wasn’t that way from the beginning.
“When we first started, we practiced on a middle school soccer field,” Rock recalled. “In our first summer workouts, we didn’t have a weight room and our gym wasn’t finished.
“We were doing pullups on the monkey bars at the middle school, so we’ve come a long way.”
Varsity team competition will be new this season, but a handful of Vista PEAK individuals made state tournaments last year.
Junior Casillas became the first Bison to experience the postseason when he qualified for the Class 3A state wrestling tournament at the Pepsi Center as a sophomore. Casillas went 1-2, but got a taste of the next level.
Vista PEAK added track & field last year and ended up with three individuals (Aaliyah Carter, Ayo Sanusi and Isaiah Young) and a boys relay team qualify for the 3A state meet. Sinusi placed eighth in the triple jump.
There are high hopes this season for the school’s volleyball team, which is the most popular in terms of numbers.
Coach Nikki Ciletti has enough players to fill four levels, a luxury many schools around Aurora with enrollments in the thousands don’t have.
“We have a strong middle school volleyball program and that continues to feed in at the high school level,” said Ciletti, citing the middle school that sits just across the campus.
“This is our first year in our Colorado 7 league and I believe we have a very competitive varsity team that has the potential to go to the playoffs this year.”
The downside to volleyball’s popularity is the large number of female athletes it draws, which hinders the ability to field other sports like softball. Vista PEAK struggled to get enough players to put together a softball team and likely won’t until next year.
Co-op teams are a reality in a couple of sports, as Vista PEAK swimmers will try to make other APS teams given the school doesn’t have a pool yet.
Prospective gymnasts will go to the program at Overland, which includes members from all Aurora schools, and boys tennis players head over to Rangeview.
From what he’s seen so far, Lyle believes his teams won’t just be filling out uniforms.
“We have a handful of freakish athletes who are very impressive, we just don’t have the numbers or the size right now,” he said. “We should be competitive in a lot of sports.”
Reach Sports Editor Courtney Oakes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-750-7555
Enrollment: Approx. 620
Classification: 3A football, 4A all others
Conference: Colorado 7 (Elizabeth, Englewood, Fort Lupton, Fort Morgan, Skyview, Weld Central)
Fall coaches: Pat Rock (football), Nikki Ciletti (volleyball), Jason Elliott (boys soccer), Michael Dougherty (boys golf), Josh Cooley (cross country)