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Matthew Jonas / Times-Call
Niwot High School soccer senior captains (from left) Lauren FitzGibbons, Maria Fayeulle and Katie Coody are helping to guide a resurgent season for the Cougars girls soccer program.

NIWOT — Last season was one to be forgotten for the Niwot girls soccer team. But, the Cougars refuse to forget and they’re on a mission to redeem themselves in 2014.

Regulars in the Class 4A state tournament, a late-season collapse left the Cougars on the outside looking in after the 2013 regular season. It was more than a little embarrassing for one of the state’s top programs year-in and year-out.

Currently sitting at 6-1 and tied atop the Northern League standings, the Cougars are well on their way to wiping themselves clean of last season’s shameful stain.

“Everyone who was on the team last year, we want redemption. We have something to prove,” senior attacking midfielder Lauren FitzGibbons said. “In the past, Niwot has been such a strong program and last year we didn’t live up to that. We just came back from spring break last year and we lost games, and we got used to losing. This year, we’ve learned to win.”

The Cougars got off to a good start last season. They opened the season with a 4-1 record and outscored their first five opponents 13-5. But in late March, the Cougars’ season took a turn for the worse.

The Cougars finished the season going 2-5-2 and finished sixth in the eight-team Northern League. They matched their final nine opponents with 18 goals scored and 18 goals against, which included a 9-0 drubbing of seventh-place Greeley Central (4-8-1, 1-6). That means the Cougars managed to tally just nine goals in the other eight games.

The 2013 season was a disappointing mark for a program that finished as the state runner-up in both 2005 and 2008. More than anything else, not making the postseason for the first time in over a decade was something else.

“It was embarrassing,” senior midfielder Katie Coody said. “We all have a lot of pride in our program but last year was disappointing and the effort wasn’t there. We’ve got it back and we’re not going to let that happen again.”

Rob Johnson, who has coached the Niwot boys the past four years, took over the girls program after Jeremy Drake, who reached the playoffs in three of his four years, resigned following the 2013 season.

Resisting the temptation to tighten up in order to right the ship, Johnson has instead opted for a looser approach and has set the Cougars free to go on the attack.

“We’ve always been focused on not allowing good looks at the goal and building forward after that. This year, we were like, ‘Hey, we’re just going to score more goals than everybody else,'” Johnson said. “We’re locking teams in their half. We’ve just kind of said that we want everyone to play hard and let’s see if they can stop us up front.”

The Cougars’ new attacking style has resulted in a 3.57 goals-per-game average and a 25-7 goal differential advantage over their first seven opponents. Seven different Cougars have found the net. Sophomore Caroline Miller has seven goals and senior scoring leader Maria Fayeulle has seen a boost in her production despite drawing a mark from most opponents.

Fayeulle leads the Cougars with 11 goals and three assists (tied with four others) through the first half of the season. The University of Northwestern-bound forward had exactly 11 goals and three assists all of last year.

Fayeulle said the Cougars’ attacking mentality has held up in the face of early deficits so far this season, since they always feel they score enough to get back into the game. She also said the Cougars have a good combination of new players and eight seniors that has helped them build a better chemistry on the field.

“We have a lot of new players, which has helped us to form a totally different mindset,” Fayeulle said. “The past players know that last year nobody was satisfied at the end of the season. So, everybody is coming out and playing their hardest and I have confidence that everyone on the team wants it.”

The Cougars’ only loss is to 3-2 on March 14 to Northern League opponent Thompson Valley (4-3, 1-1), which the Cougars avenged with a 4-2 win over the Eagles in a rematch on March 25. They also boast quality wins over 5A opponents Rocky Mountain, Brighton and Horizon.

But the road gets tougher for the Cougars starting with league rival Centaurus (6-3-1, 2-1) on Thursday. The Cougars will also have a difficult time winning the Longmont city championship against Silver Creek (4-1-1, 1-1), Longmont (5-3, 0-1) and Skyline (5-2-1, 5-1 Tri-Valley). Then, there’s still Broomfield (3-1-1, 1-0), which is currently ranked fourth in 4A by the latest CHSAANow.com poll.

Coody said the fear of a similar collapse still remains in the backs of the Cougars’ minds. But even still, she said this year’s team is different and expects a different second half.

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