AURORA — Written on a miniature soccer ball were the team goals.
Basically, it was a list of things the Niwot High School girls soccer team wanted to accomplish during the Class 4A state soccer championship game Tuesday.
Some of the goals were standard (play hard) while others were amusing (cheer hard).
But one particular goal caught your attention. Actually, senior Lauren Daly pointed it out on the ball. Daly, who was the ball’s appointed guardian, liked this goal the best.
“Play your heart out,” Daly said as she read the cursive writing.
She looked up.
“I think we did that,” Daly said after the Cougars’ 1-0 loss to Cheyenne Mountain. “Everyone played their hearts out, and that’s all you can ask for.”
The Cougars got here because they played their hearts out. They played every minute of every game this season as if it were the championship game.
Maybe Niwot has had more talented teams, but never one as close as this. Never one that was willing to sell out on every play for the good of the team.
That’s what made this team so good. Ask the players why this loss hurt so much and they won’t say because they finished second. They’ll say because it’s the end of the ride with each other. The Merry-go-round has stopped and it’s time to depart.
“The relationships we had I’ll always remember,” senior forward Kelly Creighton said. “We’ve bonded together since the beginning.”
You’re forced to when you face this much adversity. The Cougars were without as many as eight starters at various times this season. Yet they never felt bad for themselves. The Cougars simply moved forward. They found players to step in and get the job done.
“That tells you a lot about this team,” Daly said. “We wanted to win for each other.”
That type of attitude will be the enduring legacy the six seniors will leave behind. Kara Moyer, Jessica Steinberg, Creighton, Daly, Ginny Maddox and Caitlyn Wyman will be remembered for showing how to win not as individuals, but as a team.
Next year, when the Cougars take the field, the returning players will try to rekindle and recapture the magic of this season. There won’t be any dissention or bickering, just closeness. To be on this team, you have to check your ego at the door. That’s what this team has done.
No one’s the star. No one’s the standout. They played passionately for each other.
“This team has a great future,” said Moyer, who’s off to Montana State to be a student, leaving soccer behind for good. “There’s so much young talent on this team. The future’s bright. Heck yes, they’ll be back here.”
Niwot coach Jeremy Pinard didn’t want to think about next year quite yet.
“Let’s focus on this team,” he said. “They deserve the attention.”
This team deserves the attention for the way they came together at the end of the year. Niwot gave up just one goal in five playoff games. They beat many a top seed to get to the finals.
“I’m so proud of what this team has accomplished,” Steinberg said.
Was that a smile on her face? Where were the tears? Wasn’t she sad over the loss?
“I got my sadness out,” Steinberg said. “I thought about it and realized I had nothing to be sad about. We have no reason to hang our heads. We played great. We can walk out of here with our heads held high.”
The Cougars certainly can. They exited the stadium knowing one thing — they played their hearts out.