DENVER — No strangers to the state tournament in recent years, the Niwot volleyball team has learned from experience that every victory comes much harder than usual on the final two days of the season.

The Cougars were reminded of that early in both of their pool play matches on Friday at the Denver Coliseum. As the No. 4 overall seed in Class 4A, and the top-seeded team in Pool IV, the Cougars lost the first set in the tournament opener against No. 9 Discovery Canyon and also dropped the first set against No. 5 Palmer Ridge later that afternoon.

But determined to reach the state semifinals for the first time since 1997, the Cougars came roaring back in each match, winning both by a score of 3-1. In doing so, the Cougars kept themselves in the hunt for their first-ever volleyball state championship.

"We were really excited because it was the state tournament, obviously, and it was really cool to make it past the first round because none of us have done that and we worked really hard to make it happen," Cougars junior middle Emma Falk said. "We did it. And losing those first sets was kind of a motivator. It just showed us we were going to have to fight for us and made us a little angry and gave us more energy."

Improving their all-time state tournament record to 11-8, the Cougars defeated Discover Canyon, 23-25, 25-15, 25-17, 25-19, and beat Palmer Ridge, 20-25, 25-20, 25-20, 25-13. In the semifinals, the Cougars will face top overall seed and defending state champion Lewis-Palmer in the semifinals.


"The girls did a great job of executing the game plan today," Cougars head coach Daisha Agho said. "Their goal was to get past the first round and they did that. Now we have a shot at the championship."

Playing their way into the opposing semifinal, the third-seeded Holy Family Tigers started slowly on Friday afternoon but found their rhythm in the final match of the night to reach the semifinals for the second straight season after reaching the championship match in 2016.

Starting off Pool III play against No. 10 Ponderosa, the Tigers dropped the first set but rebounded to win, 17-25, 25-19, 26-24, 25-21. In their second pool play match, the Tigers dominated No. 6 D'Evelyn, 25-15, 25-16, 25-17.

"We definitely didn't play the way we could have in our first match but, you know, Ponderosa is a really good team," Tigers head coach Krista Solomon said. "We knew we needed to come out strong in our last match and we hoped our experience would win out. We were less nervous and more settled, especially our younger girls, and that helped."

The Tigers will face No. 2 Valor Christian in the semifinals.

Seeded sixth overall in 2A, Lyons won its only match on the first day, 26-24, 25-20, 19-25, 25-19 over No. 3 Dayspring Christian. The Lyons will face No. 10 Wiggins in the fourth and final pool play match on Saturday for a possible berth into the semifinals.

The semifinals in all classifications will begin immediately after the final round of pool play has concluded. Matches will start at 8 a.m. on Saturday.

Brad Cochi: or