At the end of the workday, when Kathy James leaves University of Denver, where she teaches epidemiology, she heads to another world of complexity — competitive teenage girls. This week, the field hockey pioneer heads into her 19th season coaching at Kent Denver, her 17th as head coach.
The Sun Devils have won nine championships. That figure is the most titles of any other program, and Kent continuously churns out high-level collegiate players.
Though the program's run has been cut short in semifinals the past three years, they held the trophy the four consecutive years prior.
"You can't be the crème de la crème every year. You just can't," said James, the winningest field hockey coach in the state. "Eventually someone steps in. And the level of expectation, whether self or externally imposed takes a toll."
James' most recent championship win was in 2011 against Colorado Academy, last season's state champion.
In the preseason rankings, Kent Denver sits in third, behind No. 2 Colorado Academy and No. 1 Palmer Ridge, who beat Kent in the semifinals last year by a goal.
This year, James and her Sun Devils may or may not step onto the turf on Halloween, date of this year's state championship, but it won't bother James either way.
"Of course the last championship game is always my goal, and the girls know that," she said. "But I don't impose a disappointment factor on them if it doesn't happen. It's just that as athletes, you have to have a goal to work towards, but so much good happens along the way."
Field hockey is close to home for the esteemed coach, as her husband, Brian Nutter, is the president of the Colorado Field Hockey Umpires Association, and was the head coach of Mountain Vista field hockey before that. The spouses faced off in a championship game in 2010, where Nutter took the win.
"We vent frustrations, we run scenarios, we help each other see a different view," said James of her shop talk at home. "There is rarely a day we don't speak some field hockey."
Though the game has seen much evolution in nearly two decades, James' philosophy has remained the same; her method to success consistent.
When ESPN named her high school coach of the week in 1999, she attributed her early careers wins to fundamentals, conditioning and simplicity.
"It's funny how little that changes," James said. "The game has shifted so much, but at this level, fundamentals will always be so important to me for development. Conditioning was a game-changer then and even more so now that everyone plays on turf.
"And today's sport is more high speed with less stoppage, so my simplicity theory has changed a bit, but it is merely a reflection of the sport's growth."
Colorado graduates nine all-state players from last season, including three from the Kent Denver squad. But James doesn't feel it will be a setback, or a rebuild year, as they are not alone in losing pivotal players.
Last year, the coaches comprised a team of 15 players from seven different schools to compete in a national tournament — 14 of them were seniors.
"Nearly every school lost one or two key girls. There won't be a decline in skill, just a more uniform level of play, a more uniform competiveness," James said. "Field hockey will just have a different character across the board in Colorado. And nobody is out of the running."
Field hockey preview
- Preseason rankings
- Defending state champion: Colorado Academy
- Regular season begins: Aug. 27
- Postseason start date: Oct. 23
- State championships: Oct. 31, All-City Stadium
- Returning all-state players: Emily Munn, Jr., Palmer Ridge; Emma Richards, Sr., Colorado Academy; Edie Statham, Sr., Palmer Ridge; Claire Stemper, Sr., Regis Jesuit; Fe Van Berhel, Jr., Denver East.