JOHNSTOWN – The Niwot boys basketball team capped off the 2019 calendar year with a potentially momentous win over Erie, which was ranked No. 10 in Class 4A by the CHSAANow.com poll.
After capturing that key early-season victory, the Cougars wanted to make sure to avoid a letdown when they rang in the New Year at the Roughrider Shootout tournament hosted by Roosevelt. Niwot drew a struggling Skyview squad in the first round Thursday and didn’t fall victim to the trap game on the road, winning 54-39.
So far in 2020, the Niwot boys are undefeated.
“It’s huge and that was something we talked to the boys about,” first-year head coach Clayton Wittrock said. “Before this game, I told them that 2019 is done. For our purposes, our record is 0-0 and it’s important for us to come out and start this year with a win. The Erie game was big for us to cap off 2019 and show that we’re going in the right direction but it was just as big for us to get off to a good start in 2020.”
Wittrock said the Cougars looked, at times, like they were coming off an extended break with minimal practice. But they got off to a good start, and the Cougars (4-3) led 31-17 at halftime and fended off a third-quarter run from the Wolverines (0-7) to win.
Cougars senior Cooper Sheldon, who leads the team with 13.7 points per game, scored a game-high 16 points. Milo Ostwald scored 11 points and Austin Rathburn added nine.
With Wittrock at the helm and looking for their first winning season since 2014-15, the Cougars also started last winter’s campaign with a 4-3 record before hitting a 2-12 slide in Northern League play and finishing at 8-15. Rathburn said he thinks this year will be different.
“I feel like we did a pretty good job in the first quarter of keeping up our defensive intensity and scoring off the ball,” Rathburn said. “We held them to two points, I believe. We kind of came out slow in the second quarter and we turned the ball over a lot. They hit some shots but it’s basketball and that’s going to happen. Overall, I think we’re doing well and we have a lot better defensive mindset than last year. It’s looking better.”
The Niwot boys will be back in action on Friday when they take on Denver West in the second round of the Roughrider Shootout.
In the girls division at the Roughrider Shootout, the Niwot girls lost to D’Evelyn 68-26. Missing two of their top players in Nikki Sims and Lily Sieben, who leads the team with 6.2 points per game, the Cougars struggled early on against the Jaguars’ pressure with a pair of their best ball handlers out of town.
“They punched us in the mouth and we did a better job of running what we’re supposed to run in the second half,” Cougars head coach Terri Ward said. “We’ve been a little dependent on those two for scoring but later in the game, we started to realize that the rest of us can score and that we have to. We’re a young team but we’re hopefully starting to figure it out.”
The Niwot girls will play Roosevelt at 6:20 p.m. on Friday.