THORNTON — One year ago, Mallorie Lang's young Niwot Cougars team showed up to the state meet at Thornton a little bit wide-eyed.
While they didn't meet their own goals, little did the know, they laid the ground work for something special.
On Friday morning, in the same gym, Niwot showed up with a quiet confidence and it showed as they claimed the Class 4A state title with a score of 178.2.
"It was a lot better than last year," said Lang, whose team finished third in 2014, less than two points behind champion Standley Lake. "They've done a great job all year long and they have hit scores that they haven't ever hit."
The Cougars literally vaulted themselves to the top of the leaderboard in the first event of the competition. They placed four in the top six of the vault and scored a 45.575 overall, led by Ila Katechis' 9.575. Alexis Carroll and Hannah McDonald each scored a 9.15 and Lilli Martin had a 9.1. All of them will return to Saturday's finals.
"Last year it wa s a lot of nerves and we had a lot of freshman competing," Lang said. "Today was too, but they have become more of a team over the past year.
"We've tried really hard this year to focus on being a team and being there for everyone no matter what happens."
Katechis lead the way for Niwot in the all-around competition as well. The senior finished fourth overall with a score of 35.575 and will return on Saturday in three of the four apparatus finals.
In addition to posting the top vault score, Katechis went 9.175 (4th) on the floor and 8.625 (13th) on the beam.
"We knew coming in to the day it was really a matter of who shows up," said Katechis, who finished just over a point behind all-around champion Rachel Cody of Standley Lake (36.625). "The team backed me up for sure. It was awesome, it was a good day."
Junior Marissa Koski was the top scorer on both the beam (9.5) and the bars (9.35). Freshman Lindsey Chohon was tops on the floor with a 9.425.
On arguably the toughest event of the four, the beam, the Cougars were nearly flawless and their combined score of 45.55 was the difference.
"Beam and bars are those events we really try to focus on and we put all of our efforts into perfecting the ones we know we can really kick butt on," Lang said.
Saturday's individual apparatus finals will begin shortly after 4 p.m.
CLASS 4A STATE GYMNASTICS
At Thornton High School
Team scores — Niwot 178.2, Elizabeth 177.175, Pueblo Central 166.525, Standley Lake 163.65, Thompson Valley 162.75, Evergreen 157.675.
All-around — 1. Rachel Cody, Standley Lake, 36.625; 2. Lexye Wood, Elizabeth, 36.175; 3. Amanda Taylor, Elizabeth, 35.7; 4. Ila Katechis, Niwot, 35.575; 5. Hannah McDonald, Niwot, 35.35; 6. Jada Martinez, Pueblo Central, 35.025; 7. Lindsey Chohon, Niwot, 34.575; 8. Rylie Lewis, Lone Star, 34.55.