NIWOT — With plenty of returning experience and a solid group of underclassmen, the Niwot boys golf team’s players said they expected to have a competitive squad for the fall of 2018.

The Cougars didn’t know just how “competitive” they would be.

So far this fall, the Cougars team has won well over half the matches it has entered. If the Cougars can keep up their early-season pace through the final month of the regular season, they may end up surprising themselves even more than they already with a strong showing at the Class 4A state tournament on Oct. 1-2 at Flying Horse in Colorado Springs.

“We were cautiously optimistic when the season began,” Niwot head coach Ed Weaver said. “We expected to be competitive in league and in the region. Now we feel like we should have a four-man team at state.”

The Cougars have won four of the five Northern League matches they have played. So far in their difficult out-of-conference schedule, they have finished fourth at the Eaton Invite and fourth at the Resurrection Christian Invite. At the Walt Clark Invite, they lost in a card playoff to another talented local team in Fairview and took second place.

With three league matches left, the Cougars have a 75-stroke lead in the Northern League team standings. Northridge is second to Niwot (1617) with 1692 team strokes, Silver Creek is third at 1698 and Longmont is fourth at 1769.

Individually, Niwot senior Jack Hoover sits third in the league standings and is averaging 76 strokes per round in league play. Andrew Elliott, who reached the state tournament in 2016, is fifth. Sam Hoover and Chris Gunlickson are ninth and 10th, respectively. None of the Cougars’ top players are averaging over 86 strokes per round.

Though he has plenty to play for himself, Jack Hoover said the Cougars’ focus remains on their shared success. Last year the Cougars took a three-man team to state and Hoover’s sophomore year, they had a full four-man squad. Hoover believes all of Niwot’s top golfers are capable of shooting in the 70s and he wants them to parlay that talent into a four-man showing, which would obviously provide them some cushion in the team scoring, at state this season.

“For the most part, all of us know what our abilities are,” Jack Hoover said. “When we combine those things, there’s no reason we can’t win tournaments. That makes things a very motivating environment. There’s an individual aspect to how hard we work and the little things we work on, but our greater focus is on what each of us can do to help the team win.”

Brad Cochi: or