History dictated that when the Class 4A district pairings were released by the Colorado High School Activities Association on Wednesday, Niwot coach Craig McBride was bracing for yet another trip to the Western Slope.
Instead, the Cougars landed in a much more favorable position for Saturday's action in what is the first RPI-based seeding for the sport.
With its No. 31 RPI ranking, numbers added up to Niwot having to go to No. 2 Pueblo West were geographical consideration not part of the process. But with travel for Montrose and Roosevelt playing a small role, Niwot was placed as a No. 30 seed and will be at No. 3 Denver North on Saturday for District 7 play.
The district also includes Erie and is one of two instances where local teams could meet up in a district championship game (Silver Creek and Centaurus in District 2 is the other).
Longmont (4A), Peak to Peak (3A) and 5A stalwarts Legacy, Monarch and Broomfield all learned their destinations, as well.
"I haven't dissected it too much from a competitive standpoint, but I do know I'm glad we were able to make it in and we'll play wherever they send us," McBride said, noting this is the first time in four years they won't have to hop on a bus for more than an hour. "We don't know a ton about the teams in District 7, but we're happy to keep playing."
As a testament to the strength of the Northern League, the Cougars were one of seven league teams to make the field despite a 7-12 record. Five teams overall made the 32-team field in 4A with non-winning records, including Centaurus (6-13) which was deemed to have 4A's toughest schedule.
As for Niwot's first opponent, the Vikings won the Denver Prep League and finished 18-1. However, they only played a couple of non-league teams and lost to 9-10 Pueblo East (No. 19 seed) by a 9-0 count.
McBride said his team is quite confident simply because of the competition the Cougars have battled all year.
"I know North has a lot of wins but the RPI points say their league is not as strong as ours. We're excited to play teams from out of our (league) because our league made us ready for it," McBride said.
All district play is Saturday, and Silver Creek and Centaurus are slated to play at Canon City while Longmont will go to Fort Morgan. Peak to Peak will play at University High in Greeley.
Monarch earned the highest seed of any local 5A team on the strength of 10 straight wins, but the Coyotes still must travel to Mullen as a No. 9 seed. Broomfield plays at Heritage and Legacy plays at Lakewood.
In 2A action, Dawson School earned the No. 1 seed in the District 4 tournament after completing a 13-4 regular season. The Mustangs will face fourth-seeded Lyons (6-11) at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Butch Butler Field in Greeley for the right to advance to the 1:30 p.m. championship game.