LONGMONT — Longmont’s Payton Jonason reigned high above the net Wednesday night — a more than welcome place to be in trying to get her team off the ground floor.
It just wasn’t enough to top surging Niwot.
Inside Longmont, the Cougars regrouped after facing a rare deficit and overcame Jonason’s 31 kills to beat the Trojans in four sets in keeping their undefeated season alive.
The back-and-forth bout featured crosstown programs on greatly different paths inside this pandemic season.
Longmont (0-3) was playing in just its third match due to an in-season, two-week quarantine.
The Cougars, meanwhile, moved up to third in the latest CHSAANow.com rankings and are now 8-0. Their unblemished start comes after a down 2019 season.
“We have that connection,” Niwot senior Natasha Terekhova said afterward. “We have so much spark and talent and it’s all coming together because of that trust we have with each other.”
Following a runner-up finish in the 2018 Class 4A state tournament, the Cougars went just 8-15 the last time high school volleyball took the court 17 months ago. But their return in 2021 was met with an optimistic outlook, thanks in part to an experienced lineup which includes their top six kill leaders from 2019.
“Last year, it was growing pains losing as many as we did (from 2018),” Niwot coach Daisha Agho said. “But that team didn’t waver and had the dedication to get better. And it’s coming together this year.”
On the other side of the net Longmont has had little chance to get anything together due to virus issues that have kept them off the court for much of the season.
Even in defeat, though, Jonason may have provided a jump.
“We have a few sophomores this year and most of our players haven’t been on varsity ever before,” Jonason said. “My goal is just to be a leader for these girls.”
The senior hurled heavy winners across the court to put Longmont up in the third set with the match tied at 1-apiece.
But Niwot rallied to score 10 of the final 15 points in the frame. Sophomore Angie Xu placed a pair of touch winners just over the net and out of any defender’s reach to seal the frame.
Longmont responded with a run of its own in the fourth, working out of a 21-14 hole to make it 24-23 on another Jonason kill. A service error sealed the win for the Cougars.
“I’m really proud of them for turning things around,” Agho said. “I told them in the huddle that last year this probably would have gone to five and we would have dropped it.”
Zoe Gibbs had 18 kills and 12 digs, Morgan Daugherty added another 13 kills as Niwot has now won 24 of its 26 sets played.
Next: Niwot is at home against Thompson Valley Thursday. Longmont hosts Greeley West Friday.