The Niwot baseball team didn’t fare too well on the field in 2018, but second-year head coach Adam Strah is optimistic that some off-the-field improvements will help the Cougars get back on track in 2019.

“I am excited to see this group put into action what we have been talking about this year,” he wrote in an email interview about the upcoming season. “We have focused on our team building, leadership, and culture. There is a lot of baseball talent on this team and it will be fun to watch them combine that with those intangibles.”

Another intangible the team picked up this season is experience. Composed of largely newcomers to varsity and as many freshman and sophomores as upperclassmen, last year’s team struggled with consistency and “setting a tone early,” Strah acknowledged. Still, the Cougars were probably better than their 4-15 record suggests, and most of the players from that squad will be returning in 2019 with a year of varsity-level competition under their belts.

The team still trends young however. The 2019 Cougars have just three seniors on their roster, Jaryd Meek, Aidan Galloway, and Joey Desenfants, and the latter two are the only players with more than two years’ varsity experience.

Desenfants is entering his fourth season on the varsity, and will be Niwot’s starting catcher, a position he occupied as a freshman in the 2015-16 season. The versatile senior will also be among their most experienced pitchers, and will fill in elsewhere as needed. Strah indicated that the coaches will also be relying on Desenfants and the other seniors to lead the team by example and to help set the tone for the year.

“The seniors decided to put "wtd," on the back of our hats this year,” Strah wrote. “It stands for Win the Day. I expect them to put those words into action. I look forward to them working as hard as they can to win each day within the parameters of how we define that.”

Also returning to the varsity lineup are two of the team’s top hitters from last season, sophomores Will Smith and Micah Sheats, and both will also see time on the mound. Also returning are infielders Felipe Castro and Taylor Goldfarb.

Moving up from last year’s junior varsity team are Clay Kleespies, Tim Stokes, and Ben Strid. Others will move up as needed.

Desenfants, Galloway, Sheats, and Smith comprise Niwot’s starting rotation this season, a higher number than Niwot has carried in the past, largely due to the expanded 23-game schedule adopted by CHSAA ahead of this season. According to Strah, both the coaches and players are “excited” to play four more games this season, and for the addition of local rivals Berthoud, Skyline, and Frederick to the regular schedule.

Still, Strah harbors no illusions of another tough road ahead in the Northern League this season. Niwot’s home conference is also home to a high number of teams with Class 4A state tournament success in recent years.

“My experience has been that you could pull any team's name from our league out of a hat and that team will be tough to beat,” he wrote. “Year after year our league seems to get better and better.”

The Cougars kick off the 2019 season at home on Saturday, March 9, against Berthoud, which won a game in its regional tournament but failed to advance to state. Niwot travels to Fort Lupton on March 19, and then comes back home to face Peak to Peak on March 19. The Cougars open their Northern League schedule with a home-and-home series against Silver Creek starting March 21.