Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Matthew Jonas / Staff Photographer
NIWOT — During its 2009 state championship run, the Niwot boys soccer team scored 13 goals in five playoff games to claim the Class 4A title.
With one game left in the regular season, the Cougars’ 86 goals this season are the most of any team in Colorado, and their hope is that their offensive prowess can help them recapture the postseason dominance that won them a state championship six years ago.
Contributing to that impressive total, over half of the Cougars’ state-leading offensive output has come from two players – Justin Barkow and Mark Ramirez.
“We just work really hard whether its practice or a game, we work our butts off to support each other,” Ramirez said. “If one of us has a shot, the other follows up. We try not to be selfish and worry about who has the most goals. I just have a feel for what runs he’s making and where he’s going to be. We just have that chemistry.”
Ramirez, a senior, leads the Cougars with 24 goals. Barkow, a junior, has scored 23 goals. Barkow also has a team-leading 19 assists. Ramirez has assisted on 16 goals.
Add to Ramirez and Barkow eight other players with two or more goals, and the Cougars have scored at an astonishing rate of 6.1 goals per game.
“Mark and I, we’re both able to finish,” Barkow said. “When you have two players who are able to finish and a good midfield behind them, balls just end up in the back of the net. All the players on our team trust each other. When we all trust each other, we are able to attack confidently and with numbers. When you can attack with more players than the other team can defend, you’ll get a lot of goals.”
The Cougars’ have reached the state quarterfinals in two of the past three seasons. In 2011, they lost to Evergreen in the semifinals. The Cougars’ only loss of this season, a 1-0 defeat at the hands of rival Longmont, will likely leave them second out of the 4A Northern League and with a lower seed than they would like.
Still, Cougars head coach Rob Johnson feels the team can compete for a state title. Not just because of 4A’s second- and third-best scorers, either, since Johnson sees this as one of the most talented lineups he has had all the way from the state’s top scoring duo to center back Jon Wegnleitner. The Cougars defense, after all, has only allowed 12 goals in 14 games this year.
“Between the two of them, they’re both really dangerous. We’ve had some guys in the past who have scored a lot but these two are unselfish and that makes the difference. And really, it’s not just two guys, it’s our whole team and its ability to lock teams into their own half and win balls.”
The Cougars will wrap up the regular season on Thursday against Greeley Central. After that, they’ll just wait to see who their first playoff opponent will be.