DENVER — Friday night's Class 4A state quarterfinals match between Niwot and Holy Family was a rematch from not too long ago on the same big stage.
In 2016, the Holy Family Tigers ousted the Niwot Cougars in the final match of pool play on their way to the state semifinals. Facing one another again under a new format but still for a semifinals berth this fall, the Niwot girls turned the tables on the Tigers.
Reprising their rivalry back at the Denver Coliseum this year, on the strength of a thrilling 25-22, 28-26, 20-25, 27-25 victory, it was Niwot instead that advanced cleanly into the semifinals of the new double-elimination bracket format.
"That match in the quarters was especially emotional because two years ago we lost to Holy Family in the quarterfinals," Niwot senior Audrey Richard said. "We all were holding on to that. We've just been working towards this goal all year and we know we have such a strong team and the ability to go to the finals. I think just wanting it, more than anything, was what helped us win that match."
For Richard and for the Cougars, Friday night's victory was a surprisingly somber one. On the game-winning point that sealed the match, Richard, one of the Cougars' most talent players and more looked-to leaders, collided with a Holy Family player and injured her ankle.
Though they are advancing, the Cougars are unsure whether or not they will have Richard in the lineup when their semifinals match begins at 2 p.m. on Saturday. The Cougars could face either Longmont, Discovery Canyon or Mead depending on Saturday morning's early results.
"Unfortunately, those kinds of things happen," Cougars head coach Daisha Agho said. "That's the sport of volleyball. But our girls are resilient and we're going to try to adjust and see what we can come up with on Saturday."
Seeded third overall, the Cougars (24-3) jumped out to a 2-0 lead but No. 7 Holy Family (18-10) rallied to win the third set. In the fourth, Niwot trailed for much of the set but came back to tie the score at 17-17. The match went back and forth before the Cougars gained the final advantage and won it, 27-25.
"The third set, for whatever reason, is not our favorite set," Agho said. "We just don't seem to play well then and we haven't all year. But I'm proud of them for coming back and making that effort to change our name. In the fourth set we finally got our mentality back and started playing Cougar volleyball and they played better, way better."
For Holy Family, the loss means it will play in the back-door bracket quarterfinals at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning. A win there would mean a semifinals berth and a matchup with defending state champion and No. 1 seed Lewis-Palmer.