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Niwot girls basketball preview

Coach Ward professes excitement ahead of 2019-20 season

Series: Niwot girls basketball | Story 1

November 27, 2019 | View PDF

Jocelyn Rowley

Seniors Nikki Sims, Lily Sieben, and Jasmine Ferrer-Ortega head the varsity lineup for Niwot this season.

The Niwot girls basketball team hasn't been to the Class 4A postseason tournament since 2013, but longtime head coach Terri Ward thinks 2019-20 will be the season the team's playoff drought ends. With an influx of talented newcomers, plus a host of hard-working returners, the recent CHSAA Hall of Fame inductee said she expects the Cougars to be in the mix for the Northern League title for the first time in years.

"I am very optimistic about our chances this season....I like the group, I like the people, and I like the way they're working."

To be sure, it's a group that doesn't look much like last year's varsity squad, after three of those players graduated and another four left for other reasons. That left Ward, who won her 300th game as head coach last January, with a core of five solid veterans, including seniors Lily Sieben and Nikki Sims, but without much depth or experience at some key positions, making her initial outlook for the upcoming season a little bleak.

"I'm not going to lie-it was probably going to be a struggle," Ward said.

As the 2019-20 team has come together, however, her outlook has changed dramatically.

"Our offense is going to be better, and we're going to score this year," she said. "The defense will be the icing on the cake. That's my goal anyway."

Fueling much of her enthusiasm are transfer students Addie Ruth, a freshman, and Sophie Gebhardt , who fill most of the team's gaps, much to Ward's relief.

"I'd been emailing and contacting them, but I wasn't quite sure. You just don't know until you see them practice in person. But they walked through the doors, and I was very happy."

The two will be joining Sieben and Sims in the varsity lineup, along with returning players Rachel Nobel, a sophomore, and juniors Grace Wardell and Julia Wilson, all significantly improved from last year and ready to contribute right away, according to the coach.

"Rachel looks great," Ward said of the 10th grader. As a freshman, she played in all 23 games for Niwot, ending with 58 points, 32 rebounds, and 17 assists. "She played this summer on a club team with Lily, and her skill-set is now good. I think her understanding of how it is to play high school basketball-she's had a year under her belt-and she's kind of figured that out really well."

The coach was similarly upbeat about Wardell and Wilson, and looks for the latter to lead the team in offensive rebounding, which hasn't always been the Cougars' strength.

"Julia's another one I'm impressed with," Ward said. "She's going to surprise people. She always seems to be in the right place at the right time."

Rounding out the varsity are senior Jasmine Ferrer-Ortega, junior Maya Beauvineau, and sophomores Grace Crall and Carly Toothaker.

"The talent level, top to bottom in our program this year-C-team to varsity-is better than it was last year," Ward said. "We don't have quite the numbers, but the talent level is better."

On the court, Ward said the incoming players give her fresh options on offense and she expects that to show up on the scoreboard. Last season, Niwot averaged just 35 points per game, and Ward said this year "will be something very different."

"It's not geared toward any one position, which some of the offenses of the past have been geared for different players and their skill sets. But this one is more open-ended and all-around-the post can score, the guards can score, and our shooters can score."

While a strong defense remains at the heart of her strategy, Ward is hopeful that more points will lead to both a better record and higher RPI ranking for the Cougars, who finished the '18-19 season at 7-16 and 59th overall in Class 4A, well outside postseason qualifying threshold of 48. However, that was good for fifth place in the eight-team Northern League, and Ward believes the Cougars have a genuine chance of nabbing one of the top spots this year and extending their season.

"It's wide open. I think Thompson Valley is probably the team to beat, but after that, it's anybody's...If we take care of business and win the games that we should, I think our RPI should be strong enough to get us there."

Niwot kicks off the 2019-20 season on the road against Frederick on Wednesday, Dec. 4. Tip-off is at 5:30 p.m.


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