NIWOT — The Niwot volleyball team may have had the home court advantage on Friday night but only a trivial few seeds separated the Cougars from Battle Mountain in the decisive match of the 4A Region 11 tournament.
Once the match began, however, it didn't take the Cougars long to prove they were the class of the tournament and belong at the state tournament among the state's elite teams. In front of their home crowd, the 11th-seeded Cougars defeated No. 14 Battle Mountain, 25-15, 25-14, 25-17, punching their ticket to the state tournament.
With the type of inspired ball the Cougars played on Friday night, neither regional opponent really threatened their chances of breaking through to the next round.
"We were all super pumped up for that match," Niwot senior Sarah Falk said. "Everyone just really wanted to go to state and we did whatever it took to get there. We were aiming all season to host regional and our student section was great. Everything was great and now we're ready to go into state and play the way we know we can play."
The Northern League champion Cougars (17-8), who last reached the state tournament in 2014, also swept No. 26 Littleton (15-10), 25-15, 25-13, 25-12, in the first match of the regional round robin.
In the deciding match against the Battle Mountain Huskies (15-10), which also defeated Littleton in the round robin, the Cougars ramped up their defense to pull away early in each set. By the time Emma Shiers fired the final kill of the match, the team had amassed 16 blocks. Falk, Mackenzie Fidelak and Zoe Gonzales each had four.
"Our defense was unreal tonight," senior setter Brynn Chavez said. "We knew we were going to win this match with blocks and digs so that's what we did. That's where it all starts and that's a big part of how we win. We just looked at their hitters and worked on our timing to create good matchups and we played aggressive defense and tried to keep everything off the floor."
Fidelak led the team with 17 kills and a 65.4 hitting percentage, Chavez finished with 36 assists and three aces, and Ashley Bradbury led the team with 19 digs. After watching his team struggle at the Ponderosa Mustang Classic to end the season, Niwot head coach Preston Brown was pleased to see the Cougars head into the state tournament with a flurry.
"We struggled last weekend and they came out ready to play because they knew they were better than their last performance," Brown said. "They clearly demonstrated that tonight. They played as a team and we got everybody in off the bench and did a real solid job. These guys were just clicking at their highest level from the get-go and I couldn't have asked more from them."
The state tournament will take place Nov. 11-12 at the Denver Coliseum.
Niwot 3, Battle Mountain 0
At Niwot H.S.Battle Mountain 15 14 17 Niwot 25 25 25
Kills — Niwot: Mackenzie Fidelak 17, Emma Falk 7, Sarah Falk 7, Emma Shiers 4, Zoe Gonzales 2.
Blocks — Niwot: Mackenzie Fidelak 4, Emma Falk 4, Zoe Gonzales 4, Sarah Falk 3, Audrey Richard 1.
Assists — Niwot: Brynn Chavez 36, Katie Hirsh.
Aces — Niwot: Brynn Chavez 3, Emma Falk 2, Audrey Richard 2, Mackenzie Fidelak, Katie Hirsh.
Digs — Niwot: Ashley Bradbury 19, Rachel Priola 6, Brynn Chavez 6, Mackenzie Fidelak 5, Audrey Richard 5, Sarah Falk 4, Emma Shiers 3, Courtney Smoljan 2, Emma Falk 2.