Related Stories

When I asked Niwot High's new boys basketball coach Preston Hardy in the preseason what he expected from his first season with the Cougars, he deferred the question to his four captains.

In one way or another, all four of them responded that they wanted to "change the culture."

To them, that meant eradicating the prevailing notion that the Niwot boys program, which won 44 percent of its games over the four seasons prior to 2015-16, is expected to be average. So far, it appears as though the Cougars have at least started down that path.

"In 1994 was the last time there was a conference championship here and we talk about it every single day," said Hardy, the team's third head coach in the past four seasons. "We have 11 seniors on this team and the boys said they want to change the culture. We understand that we need to believe in ourselves so that when we go out there, we can compete.

"There's no quit in this team and it's a testament to who they are. We have a leadership council around here and I've never been around young men of this age who lead the way that our leadership council leads. We believe in our gym that we can play with any team in the state and that there are things to build on here."

The Niwot boys are 6-9 just past the midpoint of the season. But considering the combination of ranked opponents and larger school competition they have face, the Cougars' record is quite respectable. Of the nine teams the Cougars have lost two, only two (Fairview and Mountain View) have winning percentages below 66 percent and the other seven have a combined record of 77-25 (76 percent wins).

The Cougars even gave Longmont, which was ranked No. 1 and undefeated at the time, a run for its money until the final minutes of a 48-38 loss on Jan. 12.

According to girls head coach Terri Ward, the Niwot girls team is also in the midst of a cultural change. The girls (10-5) have already matched last season's 10-win total and seem to be turning a corner after going 20-70 from 2010-14.

The Cougars are getting back to the way things were done before Ward left for three years following the 2009-10 season. Ward says they're doing things like going to watch the University of Colorado team practice and encouraging the players to watch more basketball on television and try to learn something from it.

Little things that are making a big difference.

"I think it's me believing in them and them believing in me," Ward said. "Before I came back, it was like they were afraid to shoot because if they took a shot that the other coaching group didn't think was right, they got pulled out immediately. They were always looking over their shoulders. They're buying into the things that we're saying and we're beginning to understand the game better.

"At first I had to be really careful with them but now I can get in their faces a little bit because they understand that we're working together to make them better basketball players. It's just a whole different culture. It's starting to be a good thing to be a Niwot girls basketball player again."

Brad Cochi: or