DENVER — The Niwot volleyball team lost nine matches this year — their latest a grueling five-setter to Lewis-Palmer in the Class 4A state tournament on Saturday morning with a chance at the semifinals within reach.
But, chew on this fact for a bit: of those nine matches lost for this 2022 Cougars team, five came at the hands of the two teams who were later playing for the 4A state championship in Thompson Valley and Windsor.
It speaks to the quality of the team the Cougars had under first year head coach Tony Engel, and it speaks to the level the Cougars annually strive to be at. On Saturday against the perennial power Rangers, the Cougars were right there, too, falling by set scores of 25-16, 16-25, 25-23, 17-25 and 15-12.
Niwot finished the season 21-9.
“We’re a pretty strong serving team, and yes, we make more service errors than other teams do but we also put a lot of pressure on other teams that way,” Engel said while looking on to see who between the Wizards and Eagles would be crowned champion later on Saturday night. “With our height, we really pose a threat at the net. So when we take teams out of system we can really take advantage of running our middles. Both Grace Demmel and Addison Engel, we were really able to terminate in the middle. That was our strength the whole year and throughout this tournament.”
The Cougars had their backs against the wall starting from the second match on Thursday night, and NHS performed admirably to make it to the final six teams. Falling to Windsor in five sets Thursday night, Niwot rebounded to defeat Durango in a 3-0 sweep Friday morning and then take out Discovery Canyon for a second time this season, 3-1, later Friday night.
That set up a match against LPHS Saturday morning — a rematch, as well, as the teams played back on Sept. 10 in a tournament with Niwot taking home a 2-0 win. Saturday was back and forth the entire way, with both teams going to the wire in the final set.
The maturity shown by the seniors was something Engel won’t ever forget.
“My senior leadership was fantastic … all of them,” the coach said. “They all stepped up, and they were really looking at this thing as theirs, and we really followed through and just a solid job across the board. It’s been great.
“Everyone had their heads up (Friday morning), just thinking, hey, we can do this. It was a real neat deal to be with them, watch as they smiled at each other and just the confidence in their eyes.”