Clear eyes, full hearts ... and there's hope in the Niwot volleyball camp the rest falls into place for Niwot's Emma Falk and Zoe Gonzales.

The senior middle blockers are key elements to what has been a historic run for the Cougars — a run that includes winning 27 of  28 Northern League matches and an appearance in the state semifinals last accomplished by an NHS team some 20 seasons ago.

With college commitments out of the way, the pair said they feel they can be the on-court leaders NHS needs in order to keep the team in that "can't lose" frame of mind.

The passion for the sport is fully evident for both Falk and Gonzales, and the drive to finish off their careers on top at NHS is even more obvious. Since they were freshmen, they've seen seniors play with a swagger that has rarely been matched in the league.

Now, it's their turn.

"I think we're expecting another good season because we have seven seniors who all know what it's like to go to state and we all know how hard we have to work to get there," Falk said before a recent practice.

It takes work and commitment to be as solid on the court as they have proven to be, but being comfortable with holding each other accountable has also factored into their mutual maturation.

There has been competition for playing time, yes, but that has not wilted a great friendship between the pair of 6-foot-3 student-athletes. Where Falk, Gonzales and 2017 senior Mackenzie Fidelak formed a formidable trio the past two years, Falk and Gonzales are aiming to keep each other in peak form.


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"It's real cool that we've played with each other for four years now and we're both prepared to go to the next level to play," said Falk, who has committed verbally to the College of Charleston. "We know what to expect from each other and we can push each other really hard."

Added Gonzales, who will play volleyball while attending Wake Forest: "I think we can push each other to our full potential, especially since it is our senior year and our last year playing together."

Gonzales also said she came into the week's early tryouts with a fresh mentality thanks to a decision she made a little less than one year ago. She decided not to play basketball last winter season, and her dedication to volleyball made her relax a little bit despite being in the heat of her recruiting year.

"I think it's been beneficial from the standpoint of just being prepared for this season," Gonzales said. "Last year, I left basketball practice early to be late to club volleyball practice. That took a toll, not only on my academics but just my physical and mental abilities on the volleyball court.

"I thought that it would be the best option for myself to stick with the sport that I knew I was going to pursue (collegiately). It's been very beneficial."

Despite the graduation of Fidelak, who was named the BoCoPreps.com and CHSAANow.com's 4A player of the year in 2017, those paying close attention to the volleyball scene aren't looking past NHS. They enter the season ranked fourth in the preseason CHSAANow rankings.

While Falk (who hit .463 last year and tallied 116 blocks) and Gonzales (140 kills, 88 blocks) represent the more visible aspects of Niwot's strong attack, the Cougars will also be looking forward to the return of outside hitter Audrey Richard (200 kills) and setters Madison Schoeder and Katie Hirsh — the latter a combination that gives head coach Daisha Ahgo systematic options against different opponents.

Adam Dunivan: dunivana@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/AdamDunivan24