DENVER — Shelby Schumacher knew it was a unique group of leaders on the team at the beginning of the field hockey season, but the six seniors got together and decided to make their last year fun. Maybe field hockey wasn't everyone's main sport, but all they could do was support each other and play as a team.
In her 20th year head coaching the Sun Devils, Coach Kathy James and her squad proved to be the ultimate definition of a team and played lights out together to win the program's 10th state title in its 13th championship game appearance.
No. 1-seeded Kent Denver beat No. 2-seeded Palmer Ridge 2-0 in the 2016 field hockey state championship at All-City Stadium on Thursday night. The Sun Devils, who finished the year 16-0-2, have the most field hockey titles in Colorado and had not won since 2011.
"This senior class was outstanding, and none of them are field hockey players," James said. "I had three lacrosse players and a soccer player (out of six seniors), and our goalkeeper is a primary field hockey player, but everyone else came from other sports."
Forward Schumacher, one of the team's senior leaders, is the soccer player of the bunch and scored an insurance goal for the Sun Devils, finishing off a straight shot on a penalty corner after time had expired in the first half.
"We all got together once we made the team and thought it was such a ragtag group and just decided we were going to have fun with it and play as a team," Schumacher said. "Field hockey isn’t our main sport, and lining the girls up for preseason, we were like, 'We’re just going to do this together,' and we don't know how, but everyone watched out for each other and we worked together as a team."
Junior midfielder Olivia Baglieri scored the game-winning goal on a deflection for the Sun Devils with 2:38 remaining.
Schumacher and sophomore forward Madeleine Hunt were both aggressive from the get go in breaking with the ball up the sides of the field. Kent Denver was very active in front of goal with plenty of early chances to score in the first half.
"I came into this game knowing it was going to be our hardest fought game in a couple years," James said. "I knew Palmer was going to play hard. Their goalkeeper, hands down, is one of the best and she was not going to let the easy stuff in. We were going to have to earn our goals because she’s phenomenal, and she played the game of her life."
Palmer senior goalkeeper Keelin Broeker played very tough, but Kent Denver's quick offensive explosion in the last three minutes of the first half sealed it. The Bears had solid coverage on defense, but couldn't get the offensive momentum going past the Sun Devils, who were not letting Palmer Ridge get any good looks.
Palmer Ridge finished the season 13-3-2 and advanced to the program's third championship game appearance by knocking four-time defending state champion Colorado Academy out in the semifinals 1-0. It was revenge that had been brewing after the Mustangs had repeatedly taken the Bears out of the state tournament the last five years.
"It's always exciting to get here, but it's never fun to lose," 10th-year Palmer Ridge coach Paul Lewis said. "We've done it a few times (2012, 2014) now and it's tough. Once the pain settles and they think back on the season, we'll have our banquet and be able to talk about the amazing things they did this season."
The Bears will lose eight seniors from their squad.