NIWOT — Niwot volleyball has proven time and again why it deserves to be recognized among the top teams in Class 4A and on Saturday, the Cougars added to their resume with a bid to the state tournament next week.
The Cougars, who earned the No. 7 seed and their own regional tournament, blew both No. 30 Pueblo East and No. 18 Steamboat Springs away in clean sweeps. Their regional campaign ended with two easy sets over Steamboat Springs before the Sailors made them sweat in the third frame.
Niwot still managed to put them away in just three games that saw scores of 25-12, 25-6 and 25-20. Earlier in the day, the Cougars defeated Pueblo East easily with set decisions of 25-18, 25-13 and 25-14.
“We didn’t serve nearly as well in the first (match), so we couldn’t get in a rhythm at all,” head coach Tony Engel said. “I think we were a little bit nervous at the beginning. And you know, it’s our home floor, it’s the match to go to state and all that fun stuff. Once we kind of settled down a little bit in set two of the first match, we served pretty well then. It really carried over into the second one, and then we got our confidence going. We really gave them a lot of first-ball offense issues, so we were getting a lot of free balls over to us. That really helped kind of get us going, and, and when that freight train gets going, we’re pretty tough.”
That freight train will get to continue chugging along when the ladies grace the Denver Coliseum on Thursday for their state tournament run. Their entire season has led up toward a strong finish, thanks in part to playing a tough schedule that included contests against two of the top three teams in the classification with Windsor and Thompson Valley.
Before they even began regional play on Saturday, the Cougars boasted a 16-7 record while finishing second in the Longs Peak League at 10-2. Those seven setbacks — four of which came at the beginning of the season when Varshini Panuganti and Grace Demmel sat out because of injury — will only sharpen them for their final ride.
The Colorado Invitational tournament a week ago opened the Cougars’ eyes to what they were truly capable of. They defeated three of four teams, save Thompson Valley, and carried that momentum toward a strong finish in the regular season.
Now, they’ll get to put all their hard work into action when they step into the bright lights of the Coliseum.
“We definitely had a really close team before this season… but I think this season really just brought us together a whole lot more and especially in serve receive. With our blocking, we’ve definitely worked really hard on improving on that,” junior middle blocker Addison Engel said. “(Today) was definitely very meaningful for our seniors, so last home game, last possible time to really have a student section. That was really important to us and having that motivation to do well for our school and for our team and our coach.”
Other regional results:
No. 20 Broomfield, 5A Region 5
The Eagles ended their 2022 slate at regionals after defeating Vista PEAK Prep in three easy sets before falling 3-1 to No. 5 Rampart. They finished the year with a 17-8 record, going 10-3 in Front Range League.
No. 29 Erie, 5A Region 8
The Tigers’ chances of winning a bid to the state tournament ended with a first-match, 3-1 loss to Cherry Creek. They ended their season on a high note, however, after bouncing back to defeat Castle View 3-2. They finished the year going 14-11 and 8-5 in the FRL.
No. 15 Legacy, 5A Region 10
The Lightning made the trip down to No. 10 Chatfield and, though they put away Highlands Ranch in three quick sets, they couldn’t tame the Chargers. Their season ended with a 3-0 loss to the host team to bring their final season totals to 21-4 and 10-3 in the FRL.
No. 20 Frederick, 4A Region 5
The Golden Eagles began their Saturday on a high note after sweeping Pueblo Central, but they couldn’t get the better of a strong Lewis-Palmer team who sent them packing with a 3-0 final. They completed 2022 with a 14-11 record while finishing the Longs Peak League going 7-5.
No. 11 Holy Family, 4A Region 11
The Tigers began their home regional with a gritty, 3-2 win over The Classical Academy, but failed to secure their ticket to state when they fell to Palisade in a similar 3-2 ending. They end their year with a 17-8 record after going 6-1 in NCAC play.
No. 25 Mead, 4A Region 12
The Mavericks faced two tough opponents with Pueblo County and Roosevelt and, after getting swept by Pueblo County, they put up a tough fight against Roosevelt before falling 3-2. They end their campaign going 11-13 and 6-2 through NCAC competition.
No. 20 Peak to Peak, 3A Region 5
The Pumas began their regional campaign on a high when they blanked The Pinnacle quickly, but couldn’t get a handle on Alamosa before falling 3-1. They end their year with a 14-11 record after going 6-5 in the 3A/2A Metro League.
No. 8 Jefferson Academy, 3A Region 8
The Jaguars ended their season with a 3-1 loss to Manitou Springs, but began their day on a high note with a clean sweep over Fort Lupton. They completed their campaign going 18-7 with an 8-2 mark in the Metro League.
No. 10 Prospect Ridge, 3A Region 10
The Miners faced one of the tougher regionals when they welcomed No. 15 Liberty Common to their gym, and the Eagles made them pay for it. PRA’s state bid fell just short after opening the day with a 3-1 win over Moffat County and ending it with a 3-0 loss to Liberty Common. They ended their 2022 run with an 18-7 overall record and 8-3 Metro League record.