With numbers up, field hockey growing in programs around the state

Smoky Hill field hockey

Smoky Hill field hockey is being coached by Natalie Foerster, an alum of the school. (Courtesy photo)

Field hockey, first sanctioned in 1997, has stayed constant with about 13 programs around the state. On the surface, the numbers haven't changed.

The coaches know that's not the truth.

Kent Denver coach Kathy James, a longtime presence in the sport and the head of the winningest program in state history, says interest in the sport has grown immensely. 

Kent Denver field hockey

Kent Denver has won nine of the 17 championships in field hockey's sanctioned history. (Matt Daniels/MaxPreps)

"We don't have a lack of girls," James said. "Right now our biggest problem is that we have so many girls that want to play, that we end up having to turn some away. There are school programs that it's not feasible for them to carry 25 girls on the team and so they have to cut some girls.

"Anybody who wants to play, we want them to have the opportunity."

In the past six years, two club teams formed, the Denver Field Hockey Club and Club Lewy. James, a coach of the Denver Field Hockey Club, said the senior class' team has fourteen girls from seven different schools this year.

"They are traveling together to compete at the U.S. Field Hockey Festival, which is the largest field hockey tournament in the world," James said. "We are in the second highest pool, which means we're competing against the top-10 clubs in the nation. Even though we're small, the players are performing very well nationally."

James added that the caliber of play has grown exponentially since the sport was first sanctioned. 

"At that point, it was unheard of for people to get scholarships to D-I programs," James said. "Now the festival team, we have four Division I athletes with a couple of them with scholarships. We've got four or five that are going to top-10 Division III programs."

Level of play has been upped and numbers in the youth programs have grown. The Denver Field Hockey Club currently has about 50 girls between the age of five and eighth grade in it, while Colorado Springs-based Club Lewy has 20.

St. Mary's Academy coach Sarah Jacobs, who played for James at Kent before enjoying a successful career at Johns Hopkins University, says the clubs have been huge.

"What's wonderful now is that there's full clubs and year-round opportunities to play as well as going around and traveling to tournaments," Jacobs said. "I think that's the number one thing that wasn't included when I was around."

Several of the high school teams have seen their numbers rise, as well. Last season, 591 girls participated around the state, up from 563 the year prior.

Golden Grandview field hockey

Golden's program is seeing its highest turnout this season. (Courtesy photo)

Golden coach Marissa Copan is a 2006 graduate of the school and was a member of the first hockey team it fielded. She played at Division III Goucher College in Maryland before returning to her home state to coach. Copan says the 2014 team is the largest in the school's history with 30 members, but the district will not fund a junior varsity team.

"We are all technically just one big varsity team," Copan said. "Every single year that I've been coaching, more people have been interested. We have girls from eleven different schools.

"There's only a couple different girls that actually go to Golden, but since we are the only program in Jeffco, a lot of the girls that play lacrosse together or play soccer together, tell their friends and we've gotten a pretty big turnout."

Denver East has long had enormous numbers for field hockey. In 2013, 97 girls tried out for the program. This year, 87 attended tryouts. East carries about 20 girls on each of its four teams.

The Angels' coach, Elise Landau, another former Division III field hockey player, said East has been fortunate enough to be able to carry a large team, a luxury most don't have.

"I think we get a lot of girls from different schools that transfer into East that have been playing field hockey in middle school," Landau said. "We have close to 50 freshmen try out. We have a reputation for not cutting girls, until recently, so mostly the freshmen who try out will come in knowing that they can play the sport and have fun and try something new."

Smoky Hill coach Natalie Foerster, a 2011 alum of the school who was a member of four semifinal teams in her playing days, says it's rewarding being part of the Colorado field hockey community again. She has embraced being a first-year head coach in the growing sport.

"I love seeing where we started this season with how much progress we are making," Foerster said. "Scores may not reflect it, but our girls are getting better and for me, that is a great feeling knowing that the girls are learning and really taking in what we are teaching them."