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Double the disappointment: Niwot volleyball bows out at regionals

 
Series: Niwot Volleyball | Story 8

Jocelyn Rowley

Niwot blockers had intermittent success at the net during two matches at the Class 4A Region 7 tournament, held May 1 at Palmer Ridge.

Niwot fans were in high spirits as the players took the court at the Class 4A Region 7 volleyball tournament on May 1, eager to see the number-10 seed Cougars battle their way back to the state championships. But levity turned to concern as Niwot's first match against No. 18 seed Erie progressed, and momentum never seemed to stay with the Cougars long before an error or foul call would intervene. That made it impossible for the offense to find its rhythm, and Erie took advantage of a team on its heels, winning the match 3-1 (20-25, 25-21, 23-25, 21-25).

But the worst was still to come. Up next for Niwot was host Palmer Ridge, a team far better than its 8-5 record suggests. The 2019 Class 4A runners-up worked the Cougars over in three sets (12-25, 11-25, 13-25) to capture the Region 7 title, and ended Niwot's would-be comeback season in the process.

Afterwards, the Niwot teammates tearfully embraced seniors Natasha Terekhova and MacKenzie Demmel, making their final appearances as Cougars. Affectionately referred to during the season by the portmanteau "Mackintosh", both were disappointed about how 2021 ended, especially after such a promising start, but were grateful to have one last season to play the sport they love.

"It was kind of a bummer how short it was," Demmel said of the 2021 season, which was delayed by five months and shortened to just 11 games. "So I was really grateful that we made it to the playoffs because that added on one more week, but even that wasn't quite far enough, and I really would have liked to go further. But I had a lot of fun overall."

As for Niwot head coach Daisha Agho's reaction to the stinging losses, she pointed to the frequent foul calls against the Cougars as the primary reason for the team's flat performance on the day. During both matches, an unusually high number of Niwot's passes were ruled double hits by the officials, a judgment Agho found questionable in most cases.

"There were about three calls that I probably agreed with," she said. "There's definitely a difference between ugly and a double. It wasn't pretty, but they weren't doubles in my opinion. ... I can't tell you what you're doing wrong, because I don't see it either."

A team with more postseason experience might have been able to adjust, Agho continued, but the repeated and baffling fouls soon drained the confidence and morale of the youthful squad, leading to miscommunication and "too many free balls and things that the other teams were able to capitalize on."

"When you feel like you don't have control over a lot of those things, it's really hard to have the motivation and the energy turn right back around. So, it did put a damper on the overall energy and the overall feel. ... If they're not believing it on the court themselves, it's just a spiraling effect."

Compounding that was an 18-day layoff after Niwot's final regular season game on April 13. Hoping to avoid a disqualifying COVID-19 quarantine, Niwot's athletic department built a sizable cushion into the 2021 schedule, but that decision had tradeoffs.

"It's tough going three weeks without playing volleyball against somebody other than yourself," Agho said, but added that she was ultimately happy to have avoided quarantine. "And so trying to create that mentality and those kinds of scenarios in the practice setting, you can only do so much before they just are ready to play and want to see another team."

That said, there were flashes of the early season Cougars, particularly in the second set against Erie, their only win of the day. Niwot managed their longest point streaks against the Tigers, spurred by hard hitting from Terekhova and junior veteran Zoe Gibbs, as well as effective blocking at the net by Demmel, junior Morgan Daugherty and sophomore Grace Demmel. The Cougars then nearly pulled off another comeback in the third set, but came up just short.

"I'm so incredibly proud of these girls," Terekhova said after the losses. "And I am so happy with the growth that we've had from last season to here. I'm not really sure what happened today, but we came out, and we balled out, and we had a very, very great season, and I'm just super excited to see where they're going to go next year."

Jocelyn Rowley

Niwot head coach Daisha Agho tries to rally her team during a timeout against Erie, during their first match at the Class 4A Region 7 tournament on May 1.

Next year for Cougars volleyball starts in about six weeks, when Agho plans to start holding bi-weekly open gym sessions for players interested in joining the program in the 2021-22 school year. In July, more formal team workouts will begin, with the season kicking off in late August. As of now, all but two of Niwot's varsity players are slated to be back next year, and Agho's expectations are already rising, especially after the harsh lessons meted out by the officials and their opponents during the regional matches.

"There are a lot of factors that go into this year, and obviously, it's not the outcome that we wanted," she said. "But this team is incredible-their character, the love that they have for each other... They're eager to just be together, whether it's on the court or whether it's off the court. They're a really, really special group of people."

 

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