NIWOT — This year's version of the Niwot softball team is a young group, but maybe this time around the word "young" isn't quite as limiting a label as it usually is in sports.
In 2016, the Cougars will give regular playing time to four freshmen. While Niwot figures to be a tough club yet again, it won't be "in spite of" their youngsters' inexperience. It will likely be "because of" their emerging talent.
Freshmen Madysun Vaughan, Reagan Wills, Nikki Sims and Calista Law aren't on the Cougars roster just to eat sunflower seeds and cheer on the upperclassmen. These freshmen came to play and intend to be difference-makers.
"I think we're doing well but we have a lot to improve on still," said Vaughan, who is playing shortstop for the first time this season. "The team is also doing well for how much experience we have. I think as the year progresses we can definitely be great. We've also been focusing on having fun and not putting too much pressure on ourselves. If you're not having fun, you're not going to play well."
Vaughan leads the Cougars in batting average, hitting an incredible .545 (12 for 22) through her first eight high school games. She is tied with Wills, who is batting .500, for the team lead in RBIs with 11.
Vaughan also is tied with senior Grace Ladd for the team lead with six extra-base hits. Against Greeley Central and Silver Creek, currently the top two teams in the Northern League, Vaughan is 5 for 5.
Senior pitcher Ladd, who recently committed to Brown University after missing much of the 2015 season due to injury, knows what it's like to be a freshman on varsity. And in the early going, she has been impressed by the newcomers.
"We've played a tough schedule so far and we're still bonding and trying to find the right defense," Ladd said. "But we're doing better than I expected and the freshmen are doing really well at filling the holes that we had from last year. They're doing everything we need them to do and they've taken their roles on very well, and they've been very humble in doing so. They don't feel like freshmen. They feel like they've been here for a while and they know what they're doing."
Niwot is off to a 3-5 start through a challenging first two weeks. With three of their losses coming against ranked teams - No. 3 Mountain View, No. 4 Mullen and No. 6 Silver Creek - every team the Cougars have lost to has received at least one vote in the CHSAANow.com preseason poll.
Back in action against Longmont on Thursday, Niwot will look to build some momentum over their next four games before rematches with Mountain View and league-leading Silver Creek on Sept. 22 and Sept. 27, respectively.
"We returned just four players who played a significant amount of time last season and of those four, only one is playing her position," Cougars head coach Bobby Matthews said. "We've battled and we're getting better. We've been in games against tough teams and the biggest thing is they're fighting and staying in it. If we can continue to fight, good things are going to happen."