NIWOT — A 14-year streak of playoff berths is hard to beat, but Niwot boys soccer continues to secure its standing as one of Colorado’s perennial programs year in and year out.
The Cougars haven’t missed a single postseason dating back to 2009, the first year in MaxPreps’ records. On Thursday night on their new home turf field, the seventh-seeded Cougars kept that tradition alive when, during the first round of the Class 4A playoffs, they defeated the No. 26 D’Evelyn Jaguars with a 3-0 shutout.
It was the 10th shutout that senior keeper Matt Hansen delivered this season to bring the Cougars’ overall record to 13-3 with a perfect 9-0 Longs Peak League record.
“He has been our rock,” head coach Stephen Dimit said. “He makes the saves he has to make but more importantly, he distributes the ball beautifully. It’s like having an eleventh attacking player out there because his ability to just hit a pinpoint pass is game-changing. I think we saw that a little bit tonight.”
It certainly hasn’t hurt Hansen’s prospects that the Cougars field an ultra-talented team each match. That theme continued against the Jaguars as senior forward Eric Walker, junior defender Josh Ary and junior forward Javier Alvira all added their names to the scorebook.
Following a slow start that saw the Jaguars pressuring Hansen left and right, the Cougars found their opening — two, actually — in the 22nd minute. After drawing D’Evelyn keeper Liam Smith out of the goal, junior forward Jett Feiner took a wide-open shot that bounced right off the post. Walker, not one to leave his teammate hanging, tapped the ball in for Niwot’s first score.
“We just shored up our midfield a little bit, but the biggest change was when we asked our forwards to really just raise their level defensively, to start pressing everything,” head coach Stephen Dimit said. “Half the team was playing forward at some point tonight because we were just asking them to sprint at everything. It really disrupted what they were trying to do in the back to kind of feed their forwards. Once we did that, we really took off.”
Thirteen minutes later, a D’Evelyn foul handed the Cougars a golden opportunity with a penalty kick. Ary didn’t waste it. He squared up his man and beat out Smith to put his team up 2-0 headed into the midway break.
Halfway through the second half, Alvira added to Niwot’s tally when his shot from wide left bounced off the inside of the net.
The Cougars will now advance to the second round of the playoffs to take on No. 23 Steamboat Springs at home on Wednesday.
“Having all the depth, it just takes a lot of stress out when your guys can go at it,” Hansen said. “They can give 100% and know that the guy behind them has the same skill as them. It makes everyone play one level higher than they would without it.”