LONGMONT — Silver Creek felt the mellowing effect of playing as a team Tuesday night against Niwot.
The Raptors turned that knowledge into the euphoric feeling of winning their first inter-Longmont rivalry in two seasons. Silver Creek managed to fight back from a two-game deficit at Niwot and win the final three for its second Northern Conference win.
“In our other varsity games, no one came together,” Raptor Christie Berger said. “We came out yelling at each other and frustrated. The final three games
we were calmer, and every one was laughing and playing as a team.”
The Raptors (2-10, 2-13) shrugged off early errors and sapped the Cougars’ confidence in Game 3.
“I think our kids just got overconfident,” Niwot coach Jim Christianson said. “They get tight and think the balls should be going over on their own.”
Silver Creek had no illusions. The Raptors worked for every point to get back into the match and then fended off Niwot to achieve the win.
Senior captain Kendall Storaci was a steady, consistent leader for the Raptors in every game, but her serving streaks in the final three games helped carry her team. She finished with four aces, 24 digs, six kills and two blocks.
“It’s my senior year, and I should not be able to show me getting down on myself,” Storaci said. “Serving is so big, and I just tried to get it in the whole time.”
The difference between the Silver Creek team that had problems communicating on passes and hitting at the front line and the team that stole Niwot’s win was a pep talk.
The Raptors gathered on the sideline prior to what could have been the final game and decided on something.
“We had a lot of trouble losing the first two games,” Storaci said. “We decided we shouldn’t play for anyone but ourselves. We needed to know we wanted to win it for us, and that’s what we did.”
Wanting it wasn’t the only difference. The Raptors picked balls off the floor and served well, but Silver Creek’s net play demoralized the Cougars.
Berger found her rhythm in the final games, laying down spikes and stopping Niwot’s hitters with key blocks.
She finished with 12 kills and four blocks, most coming at the end of the match.
It frustrated the Cougars, solid to that point, into making the errors.
“When she was getting out there playing well, she was unstoppable,” Raptor coach Erich Otto said. “I always felt the team could play this way, and tonight they lived up to their potential and proved they could.”
The Cougars were not happy witnesses to the revelation. The team fought back in Game 3 from a 10-3 deficit to tie the game at 18, and then played point for point with the Raptors until it ended in Silver Creek’s favor, 26-24.
Niwot’s substitute players, in for a large portion of that game, came out and the Cougars’ starters made it close.
The important game for the team was Game 4, though. Christianson saw that as the make-or-break game for not only the match, but also the season.
“I just don’t think they understood the urgency of what we needed to do,” he said. “In the fourth game, I told them they had to win that match if they wanted to go to districts. With seven or eight seniors, I thought they could handle it. I guess it was too much pressure.”
The loss does not rule Niwot out of the postseason race. The Cougars have five conference wins and three conference matches left, but Tuesday’s loss leaves their chances dependant on other schools’ records.
The Cougars will face Thompson Valley, Greeley West and Berthoud to close the season, all conference matches. Greeley West is a dominant team, but the Cougars should be evenly matched against the other two opponents.
If the Cougars can play as they did the first two games Tuesday, a postseason life can be revived.
Silver Creek not only played as a team, they put Niwot’s season at risk. That’s an accomplishment for the 2-13 team that had not won since Sept. 15.
“Last year we didn’t beat any of the other Longmont schools,” Storaci said. “A sweep is nice, but to come back the way we did and win in five and finish them at Niwot’s gym, that’s fantastic.”