NIWOT — The Longmont volleyball team had a chance on Thursday night to close out its first Class 4A Northern League title since 2015 — a win on Niwot's home court pouring more salt into the wound of a Cougars team looking for its third straight league crown.
With that scenario well-defined well before they ever stepped on the NHS court, the Cougars rose to the challenge of defending their home and beat the Trojans 3-1, earning themselves the upper hand in at least a share of that prestigious league distinction.
Niwot, ranked No. 4 in the CHSAANow.com polls, earned a 25-19, 26-28, 25-23, 25-19 win using a balanced attack and an emotional jolt on Pink Out night, closing out its league play at 13-1 while handing Longmont its first league setback with one more match to go.
The fact the Trojans could have celebrated stuck with Audrey Richard and her senior teammates, and the Cougars continued a clean streak of matches since their last loss — which came at Longmont back on September 25.
"In a rivalry match, it's really easy to turn your focus on to what the other team is doing on the other side, but we decided we wanted to focus on our side and just get back to good fundamentals and discipline," Richard said after she unofficially tallied 14 kills while attacking at both pins. "We started this match with 'defend your house.' We have eight seniors on this team, and we came out the idea of playing with all our hearts."
While each of the Niwot girls were carrying in their hearts the memories of a number of individuals they personally knew who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, evidenced in a well-orchestrated pregame introduction, the win meant coming together for each other, too.
It takes a complete effort to down a team like Longmont (16-2, 12-1), a squad that has risen to No. 2 rankings. For Niwot, getting middles Zoe Gonzales and Emma Falk going opened up the edges for single-block attacks, and Richard and Natasha Terekhova each had exceptional nights.
Unofficially, Falk had 24 kills to lead the host's efforts.
"We needed to do things to get them out of system and reduce their opportunity to set Emma, and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't," said Longmont head coach Holli Stetson. "Whenever you lose, you definitely learn a lot more than when you win and although it stings, this is the kind of match that will help fuel your run into the postseason. We're looking for good things and you keep working every day."
As was the case in Longmont's win the first time around, all four games were extremely tight battles that featured both the big hits and the smarter, angled attacks that keep teams on their toes.
The biggest lead for either team the entire night was seven points, and that was achieved just once in Niwot's game one win. The final three games saw only a handful of six-point advantages by either squad.
After seeing Longmont take a extra-point second game, Niwot (16-2 overall) put its foot down and registered 14 kills and 18 kills, respectively, in its final two wins.
"We were looking forward to this match for a long time," Richard said.
"We felt like we didn't do a great job last time of getting our middles involved against them, keeping them involved, and tonight we pretty much had anyone we needed available on the net and that was huge," Niwot coach Daisha Ahgo added. "I'm super-proud of them."
Longmont was led by Payton Jonason's 24 kills, and the Trojans also received 12 kills from Autumn Drees and another seven fron Ada Grace Creighton. Annika Wetterstrom had 58 assists.
"All those girls did a great job, and they knew they were going up against some great blockers but still played great," Stetson said.
The Trojans close league play next Tuesday with Silver Creek, another team looking to sew up a nice seed as the Raptors sit in third place in the Northern. A Silver Creek win would give Niwot the title outright, while a Trojans victory would give Longmont a share of the title with the Cougars.
Niwot plays Holy Family on Wednesday in what could be another match of state tournament-bound teams.
Niwot 3, Longmont 1
At Niwot HSLongmont (16-2, 12-1)19282319Niwot (16-2, 13-1)25262525
Kills — Longmont: Payton Jonason 24, Autumn Drees 12, Ada Grace Creighton 7; Niwot: Emma Falk 24, Audrey Richard 14, Zoe Gonzales 12.
Blocks — Longmont: Caroline Demosthenes 5, Wetterstrom 2, Drees 2.
Assists — Longmont: Annika Wetterstrom 58.
Aces — Longmont: Wetterstrom 5.
Note: Full Niwot stats were not immediately available.