NIWOT — The chair set up along the Niwot bench intended for Terri Ward is going to become more like a window dressing the deeper in to the season the Cougars go.
But the simple fact that it is meant for her is what has the school and the girls basketball program excited.
Ward paced the sideline Monday night as the Cougars opened up their season against Denver South, and afterward tried hard to remember the last time she had to raise her voice. With Niwot’s 61-39 opening win over the Rebels at the Niwot gym, she only had to do so a couple of times.
The Cougars controlled the game from the outset, a confident bunch arriving to the court and performing the way they’ve been taught the past couple of weeks.
“I could not have written a better script to start things out,” said Ward, who last coached NHS in 2009-10 but came back this season after a hiring process did not produce a suitable candidate. “It was good to see the fruits of our labor, because they’ve been working hard and they’ve been listening. I’ve been calling them little sponges since they started, because everything the coaches say they have been eating it up.
“This was awesome, and it felt good to get back (on the bench). It didn’t take long to get the juices flowing.”
A couple weeks of practice with Ward at the helm has gotten the players fired up, especially the seniors who have dealt with some miserable seasons.
“It’s been awesome, and the attitude and feel around the gym is so much different,” said senior Callie Hensen, who scored 12 points and had a couple key steals in the seconds quarter. “She brings so much positive energy to our gym. It’s definitely going to be a different year for us.”
Added classmate Anna Dunnell: “We’re super excited. I am excited to see what happens. You saw how good we could be. The team as a whole, we’ve just started supporting each other a lot more, and I don’t know if that’s because of (Ward) or not, but it’s definitely different from last year, for sure.”
Dunnell seemed to play with a chip on her shoulder, finishing with a game-most 18 points and pitching in 11 rebounds. The key to the Cougars’ solid start, however, was a balanced offense that was finishing plays. Five different players hit buckets in the first quarter as NHS shot 8-for-13, doubling up Denver South 16-8 after the first and extending that lead to 36-16 at the half.
This was the same Denver South team that beat Niwot last year, 71-26.
Niwot’s defense closed in hard on South players driving to the hoop, challenging plenty of shots along the way. South shot just 29.1 percent for the contest and had 24 turnovers.
“I think we’ve always known that we had it in us, we just needed some kind of outlet for us. Coach Ward was that outlet for us,” Hensen said.
“When you have a system, offensively and defensively, and everybody buys into it and they know everybody has their back, it just makes a huge difference in how they play,” Ward added. “The defense made their offense.”
Abbie Montgomery pitched in nine points, and Jami Albert and Alyssa Jenkins had six apiece for Niwot.
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Niwot 61, Denver South 39
At Niwot HS
DENVER SOUTH (0-1)
Moore 4 0-3 8, Ray 0 0-1 1, Kindel 4 0-0 9, Sweets 4 3-7 11, Albury 4 2-2 10. Totals 16 6-18 39.
Abbie Montgomery 3 3-5 9, Callie Hensen 5 2-2 12, Hannah Sarosi 2 0-0 4, YingYing Chen 1 1-2 3, Monica Pilewski 1 1-2 3, Anna Dunnell 6 6-10 18, Jami Albert 3 0-0 6, Alyssa Jenkins 3 0-1 6. Totals 24 13-22 61.
Score by quarters:
Denver South 8 8 16 7 — 39
Niwot 16 20 15 10 — 61
3-point field goals — Denver South (1): Kindel. Fouled out — None. Technical fouls — None.