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Senior Cori Kirschling has been the leader of the Niwot volleyball team's surge to the top of the Northern League standings.
Matthew Jonas / Longmont Times-Call
Senior Cori Kirschling has been the leader of the Niwot volleyball team’s surge to the top of the Northern League standings.

 

NIWOT — This just isn’t the same old Niwot High School volleyball team.

The Cougars have spent years in the shadows of the Northern League, looking up at other local teams like Longmont, Silver Creek and Broomfield. The 2014 version of the Cougars, however, is taking the loaded conference by storm.

With seven seniors on the roster, Niwot has been building towards this breakout season for years. The Cougars know what they have and they’re making it count.

“We’ve worked a lot on mental toughness and leadership,” Cougars senior captain Cori Kirschling said. “We have a lot of good players on our team but the mental toughness has helped us a lot so that when we get in those tough games, we’re able to push through. Being in the shadows these past years has helped us want to break out and win the league and go to state.”

The Cougars (10-3, 7-1 Northern) finished second in the Northern last season. They were sixth in 2012, fifth the year before that and next to last in 2010. Heading into league play on Thursday, they are in sole possession of the conference lead.

While Kirschling leads the Cougars with 173 kills, including 27 against rival Longmont and 21 against rival Silver Creek, she said the Cougars don’t care much about stats and standings this year. They care about state.

“If we just keep playing strong and finish out the season, we should have a good seed in the postseason and a good chance to go to state,” Kirschling said. “There are seven seniors on the team and we know it’s our last shot.”

A five-set loss to Pueblo West at the Region 10 tournament last season snatched a state tournament appearance from the Cougars’ grasp. It also sparked the fire that has motivated this season’s resurgence.

Starting the season 5-0, the Cougars did not lose a game until a 2-0 tournament loss to 5A Denver East. They have also won five-set matches against rivals and state tournament teams Longmont and Silver Creek.

Currently leading the Northern, the Cougars need to beat second-place Longmont (8-6, 6-2) and third-place Mountain View (7-6, 6-2) to lock up the conference title.

“It has a lot to do with our age and maturity,” senior Maeve McCarthy said. “Most of these girls have played together for four years so our chemistry combined with our talent and our depth makes us a very capable team. Coming so close to state last season made it easy for us to work that much harder, stay a little later at practice. We’ve seen that it can come down to just those few points so we know that all that extra work is what’s going to make the difference.”

In his second season as head coach, Preston Brown said the Cougars, who have six players with 20 or more kills, have relied on their balance all season.

“I started out as freshman coach so I’ve coached a lot of these girls for four years now,” Brown said. “This is kind of how we’re setting up to peak, not only for their senior year but setting up to peak in October. There are no freebies in this league but we just have to take care of business. We need to be the best that we can be and do the things we need to do to be successful. The rest will take care of itself.”

They were on the outside looking in for a long time. With five matches left to play, the Cougars hold their destiny in their own hands.

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