LONGMONT — Colorado’s third-ranked Longmont High volleyball team remains undefeated but received its truest test so far against cross-town Northern League rival Niwot on Thursday night.
Hosting the Cougars, who have emerged as a top-three Northern team, the Trojans dropped their first game of the season before rebounding to win 26-28, 25-23, 25-12, 25-18. Trojans senior middle hitter Dailyn Johnson said they took Thursday’s Game 1 loss on the chin and approached the opportunity to come from behind as a welcome challenge.
“It was a good experience for us to feel that fire in our bellies when we lost so that we could come out with the emotion that we had to finish the match,” Johnson said. “It was a good learning experience and a good look for our future games when we go to playoffs.”
The Trojans, who went undefeated until Oct. 27 last season, came in undefeated and ranked third in Class 4A by the latest CHSAA rankings. In their 12 wins this season, the Trojans have won 33 of the 34 games they’ve played.
Trojans head coach Holli Stetson coached the Trojans to a win over Thompson Valley hours after her father Gerry Boland’s remains were discovered in flood-torn Lyons on Sept. 19. The Trojans have dedicated the season to Stetson and have and played with the words “FOR” and “COACH” written on either calf since returning from the season’s delay the flooding caused.
“With everything that happened with coach Stetson and her father we decided that everything we do, we do for her,” Johnson said. “It was super intense and personally I was pretty nervous. That first game we were just trying to get our jitters out and figure out what our strategy was. As the match progressed, we started figuring out where the holes where and we put it away.”
The Cougars came from behind 19-14 to win Game 1 behind some good defense from senior middle Chelsea Patterson. The Cougars surged back from a 24-17 deficit in Game 2 but the Trojans held on to win 25-23.
Breaking an 8-8 tie, the Trojans ran away with a 25-12 win in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead in the match and finished it out with a 25-18 win in Game 4.
Johnson’s six blocks and four kills were a big piece of the Trojans’ first comeback in 12 matches this season.
The Trojans’ deadly hitting duo of sophomore Sydney Wetterstrom, who entered Thursday’s match with 4A’s eighth-best hitting percentage at .372, and senior Becca Mau, who entered ninth best at .369, combined for 27 kills against the Cougars.
Senior setter Elena Michalski tallied 44 assists, sophomore Madison Gaibler had five kills and sophomore outside hitter Megan McKinney came through with 10 kills and three aces to help pace Longmont’s comeback.
“It was good to have a lot of pressure because next week we have Silver Creek away and then again at home,” McKinney said. “We prepared ourselves well and really came together as a team.”
The Trojans had a brief scare tied 6-6 in Game 3 when senior libero Kaili Brazell hit her neck during a collision with teammate Maddie Precht while both chased a dig. Brazell, who has suffered four concussions and said she plays at her own risk with a required pink headgear, returned to the match in Game 4. She led the Trojans with 18 digs and served the match-winning ace.
“We were expecting they were going to be tough,” Brazell said. “It was a great match. We had to push through. I have to take a risk every time I play and I was thankful I was able to be cleared by the trainer and continue to play.”
The Cougars entered Thursday’s match white-hot and winners of six straight matches, including back-to-back wins over Broomfield and Thompson Valley. Wrestling with Silver Creek for second place in the Northern League, the Cougars’ last loss was a 3-0 loss to the Trojans on Sept. 10.
This time against Longmont, senior middle hitter Chelsea Patterson led the Cougars with five blocks and three kills. Junior outside hitter Cori Kirschling, who entered Thursday’s match third in 4A with 5.1 kills per set, racked up 24 more. Senior setter Meghan Richard tallied 46 assists and senior libero Sarah McCaddon led the team with 18 digs and a 2.57 pass rating.
“I really feel that we played our hardest,” Patterson said. “Our defense was pretty good and we keep pushing through. We’re playing really well. I’m really proud of our team, we fight through every single game and we never stop believing.”
Follow Brad on Twitter: twitter.com/BradCochi
Longmont 3, Niwot 1
At Longmont HS
Niwot (11-3, 7-3) 28 23 12 18
Longmont (12-0, 8-0) 26 25 25 25
Kills — Niwot: Kirschling 24, Weckerly 9, Dennis 6, Eliopulos 5, Patterson 3, Richard 2; Longmont: Mau 20, McKinney 10, Wetterstrom 7, Michalski 7, Gaibler 5, Johnson 4, Precht 2.
Blocks — Niwot: Patterson 5, Richard, Eliopulos; Longmont: Johnson 6, Mau 4, Gaibler 3, Wetterstrom 3, McKinney.
Assists — Niwot: Richard 46, Dennis; Longmont: Michalski 44, Precht, McKinney, Johnson.
Aces — Niwot: Dennis, Richard; Longmont: McKinney 3, Gaibler, Brazell, Wetterstrom, Mau.
Digs — Niwot: McCaddon 18, McCarthy 12, Peiker 8, Weckerly 5, Eliopulos 3; Longmont: Brazell 18, Mau 17, Michalski 16, McKinney 11, Precht 7, Gaibler 5, Wetterstrom 4.