Niwot has been the local volleyball powerhouse for years, even with the constant revolving door of talent that defines high school athletics.
Still, the Cougars manage to give opponents headaches, near and far. New leaders continue to step up to the challenge.
This year, that onus fell on junior middle blocker Addison Engel, who’s seen tremendous growth in the sport since her freshman year, when she first joined Daisha Agho’s squad. She barely saw any playing time two years ago, but quickly ascended through the internal ranks of the team.
This season, she served as one of the team’s most reliable producers, notching 203 kills, 25 aces and 66 blocks. That production, and her role as a leader for the Cougars, earned her a nod on second team all-state as well as the Longmont Times-Call’s player of the year.
She put in the work to ensure her team could lean on her when it needed her most.
“Our team definitely has some really, really natural born leaders,” Engel said. “There’s never a time where I feel like there’s so much pressure on me because I always know those (other leaders) really got my back and really know what to say at the right time. I kind of took a role as an always positive, always encouraging type person. I wanted to be able to be looked over to and give someone a smile and tell them that they’re playing great. It’s OK, just move on from mistakes.
“In between freshman and sophomore year, I decided I really, really want to try and be a part of the team and bring something to this already amazing team, so I worked my butt off. I was going to like five or six practices a week, and I was really just trying to observe a lot of volleyball while also trying to improve my own game.”
That dedication to her craft helped vault the Cougars to a spot in the Class 4A state semifinals after the team had to fight its way back through the consolation bracket. Engel served not just as a conduit on the court, but as the middleman her teammates needed to establish a direct pipeline to their coach. Tony Engel stepped up from assistant to take over the program after Agho exited for the Thompson School District.
He’s seen her improvement from her middle school days, but glowed when discussing the great strides she’s made in the past few years.
“We were very senior-lead last year with quite an advanced couple of seniors,” Tony said. “Then we get into this year, and, frankly, everyone came back bigger, better, stronger. Addison spent a lot of the offseason playing for a very high-level club, NORCO, and that really pushed her to a whole ‘nother level of court awareness of what she needed to do to be able to not just be on the floor, but be a significant contributor. That was kind of innate from stepping on the floor day one, but then as the season progressed, her confidence level picked up quite a bit. With that confidence, came success.”
Addison, of course, couldn’t have done it without the help of other strong contributors like seniors Paige Demosthenes, Varshini Panuganti, Grace Demmel and sophomore Anne Haley, just to name a few. That core group accelerated what was already a successful program, and led the ladies to a 21-9 finish.
With Addison and Haley coming back for another year, they’re not done yet. Their postseason run proved as much.
“I think our team is very mental,” Addison said. “We’ve had some mental ups and downs throughout the year, so we all went into state probably a little bit too jittery and really tried to give it our all that first night and especially after losing, we really decided we can’t go out like this. We need a good comeback. We owe it to our seniors who have given us everything and made this such an amazing season. We all took a whole bunch of deep breaths as a team and texted each other encouraging words before the next day. And I think we really showed up the next day.”