NIWOT -- Following the past few seasons' building trend, and though it is still early in 2013, there is little doubt the Niwot volleyball team is better this year than it was last year.
The Cougars wanted to show just how far they had come with a home-opener win over Northern League rival Thompson Valley, a team that swept them last season, but fell just short losing 25-20, 20-25, 23-25, 25-14, 15-13 on Thursday.
The Cougars felt the match, which the teams played most of within a point or two of one another, could have gone either way. But they know they have work to do if they want to consistently compete with the league's top teams.
"We're definitely disappointed. It's hard to lose in five," senior captain Meghan Richard said. "But I think everyone is proud of how we played. We really put it all out there and we made a run at it."
After winning game three 25-23, the Cougars were in a good spot with a 2-1 lead. But the wheels came off in game four when the Eagles jumped out to a 15-6 lead and held on to stay alive.
In the decisive fifth game, the Cougars committed seven errors and ended up letting a 13-12 lead slip to lose 15-13.
"They came out with more intensity than we did," Richard said. "We kind of found it near the end and made a run at it but we've got to start out strong. We had a couple of errors in the beginning, and in the beginning of the fifth game, that we should have controlled on our side of the court. They did that at the end and were mentally tough. We need to work on that."
Niwot junior Cori Kirschling, who led the Northern Conference with 5.7 kills per set last season, tallied 27 kills against the Eagles. An example of the Cougars' improved team passing, Kirschling had 30 total kills in two matches against the Eagles in 2012.
Richard, who recorded 49 assists, and junior middle hitter Lexi Eliopulos combined for nine blocks to lead the Cougars defensively.
"There are definitely things we need to work on but next match, we're going to be more prepared," Kirschling said. "We were a lot closer and we felt more competitive against them this year."
The Eagles beat the Cougars 3-1 and 3-2 last year. The Cougars finished sixth in the 4A Northern Conference last season. Thompson Valley was second.
After facing the conference's second-best team from 2012 on Thursday, the Cougars will be back in Northern Conference action on Tuesday to take on the best when they host defending league champion Longmont.
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Thompson Valley 3, Niwot 2
At Niwot HS
Thompson Valley (1-2, 1-1) 25 20 23 25 15
Niwot (1-1, 1-1) 20 25 25 14 13
Kills -- Thompson Valley: Daniels 19, Newton 14, M. Miller 9, K. Miller 4, Wiersma 6, McCrimmon 4; Niwot: Kirschling 27, Weckerly 8, Richard 6, Eliopulos 4, Patterson 4, Dennis 5, Kosten 2, McCaddon.
Blocks -- Thompson Valley: Wiersma 4, Newton 4, Daniels, K. Miller, M. Miller; Niwot: Richard 5, Eliopulos 4, Kirschling, Patterson.
Assists -- Thompson Valley: McCrimmon 47; Niwot: Richard 49.
Aces -- Thompson Valley: McCrimmon 3, Wiersma 2, K. Miller; Niwot: McCarthy 2, Eliopulos, Weckerly, McCaddon.
Digs -- Thompson Valley: McCrimmon 21, Daniels 20, Wiersma 16, Newton 15; Niwot: Dennis 12, McCaddon 12, Richard 11, Weckerly 10, Kirschling 9, McCarthy 7.