NIWOT — Fulfilling his role as the Cougars' top offensive weapon, junior forward Manny Tapia led the Niwot boys soccer team with 15 goals during the regular season.
When the Cougars kicked off their first-round Class 4A state tournament game as the No. 3 overall seed on Wednesday, Tapia was given about as different a role as there is on the soccer field. Filling in for injured starter Mario Munoz and hosting the No. 30-seed Erie Tigers, Tapia started the game as the Cougars' goalkeeper.
Even with their best point-scorer as far away from the opposing goal as possible, the Cougars, in turn, emerged from the game as 7-0 victors at Niwot High School.
"It was something different but anytime we have to do it, it's just for the team," said Tapia, who is no stranger to playing in goal. "They looked pretty good up there, though. I don't know if they'll need me back up there by next playoff game but whatever I do, it will be fun."
Niwot head coach Stephen Dimit said he was impressed with how in-synch the Cougars (13-1-2) attack was without Tapia, who saves all three Tigers (7-9) shots on goal. They got an early spark from a goal by Andres Montealegre in the fifth minute and another in the eighth minute from Jonathan Jimenez Flores.
The Cougars poured in four more goals before halftime, at which point they led 6-0.
"Andres got us off to a great start today," Dimit said. "He basically warmed up like a boxer, like, hood up, didn't talk to anybody for like half an hour and came out fired up. He came ready to go and I think that got everybody else going. The fact that they did it without Manny today is really impressive."
The Cougars will face No. 14 Battle Mountain in the second round on Tuesday. As for Munoz, who is currently out of the lineup because of a concussion, Dimit said the Cougars are taking every precaution with their junior goalie and do not have a concrete date for his return.
While the Cougars have sent a team to state every season for well over a decade, this was just the Tigers' fourth season with a varsity team but already their second time reaching the tournament. The Tigers were on the outside looking in at 39th in the 4A RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) standings before upsetting Windsor in their season finale to leap up the standings and into the 32-team field.
"This isn't going to define who we are because we've done too many good things this season," Tigers head coach Jeff Vigil said. "After Skyline, we were pretty down but we came back and got the win that we needed to get here. And hats off to Niwot, they're a very good team, and when you draw a great team like that, you have to be at your very best."
Niwot 7, Erie 0
At Niwot H.S.Erie (7-9) 0 0 — 0
Niwot (13-1-2) 6 1 — 7
Goals (assists) — Niwot: Andres Montealegre (Tyler Crall), 5th minute; Jonathan Jimenez Flores (Jason Rodriguez), 8th; Cameron Carlson (Montealegre), 21st; Crall (Jimenez Flores), 31st; Magnus Hansen (Jimenez Flores), 34th; Hansen (Jimenez Flores), 38th; Dylan Campbell (Rodriguez), 79th.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Erie: Jon Powell (65-6-7), Cole Manuel (15-1-1); Niwot: Manny Tapia (79-0-3); Francisco Rodriguez (1-0-1).