The numbers game continues to get better for the sport of field hockey, but Regis Jesuit hopes that four remains its magic number in 2016.
New programs at Arapahoe and Liberty joined the field hockey ranks this season, bringing the number of varsity teams across Colorado to its high mark of 15, which is a positive sign for those who love the game.
Field hockey in the Summer Olympics has provided a boost as well and the best days could be ahead for a sport that has constantly sought more exposure.
Regis Jesuit coach Spencer Wagner hopes he has built his program over the past few years so that it will be one of the four teams that is annually in the conversation to win a state championship.
“I think the new teams will strength the talent pool a little bit, but I still think there are going to be those top performing teams, the big five or six that rotation through as threats every year,” Wagner said. “Honestly, there are about eight teams that consistently make the quarterfinals with a little bit of variation in the bottom two. I’m glad that our program has reached the semifinal to be in the top of the big eight.
“That’s where we want to remain and I think we have the talent to do so.”
The Raiders took the first step last season by making it to the state semifinals — which had eluded them the previous five seasons with first round playoff losses — but now seem set up for ongoing success.
While Wagner said his team is smaller in terms of numbers of players, the quality is there.
“I think this team is more consistent than any team we’ve had,” he said. “We have less numbers overall, but more committed players.”
The Raiders will have one major difference as star goalie Claire Stemper — the program’s first Division I recruit — graduated and is now at the University of Michigan. Stemper started for four years and played at an All-State level three times.
Stemper’s presence prompted Regis Jesuit to play more of a defensive style last season and it worked, as the Raiders yielded just 11 goals in 16 games to rank third in the state behind state champion Colorado Academy (8) and runner-up Cherry Creek (10).
But with players such as junior Reagan Cadieux (5 goals, 3 assists) and seniors Lindsey Reich (4 goals) and Meredith Rogan (3 goals, 5 assists) returning, Wagner is intent on a more offensive focus this season, which is more than alright with the players.
“I think we have a lot of strong, aggressive offensive players this season, so I’m excited for the chance to score more,” said Cadieux, who was one of just two sophomore regulars for the team in 2015.
Smoky Hill finished with a solid 6-6-3 mark last season, which included five losses against the four teams that made the state semifinals, and will try to build on that despite the graduation of nine seniors.
Senior Kodi Paules led the Buffs in scoring with seven goals last season and returns, as does senior Mikayla Hernandez, who scored three times. Senior Cassandra Hernandez enters just her second season of varsity field hockey and should also be a significant contibutor for coach Natalie Foerster’s Smoky Hill team, which also has a veteran in the goal in Holly Miller.
Despite the loss of numbers — the program has enough players for two small teams — and some talented individuals, Foerster believes her team could surprise.
“While making playoffs will be our ideal goal the most important thing I want from our girls is that they learn the love for the game and how to work with their teammates,” Foerster said.
Grandview won four games in 2014, but dipped to 2-7-5 last season in the first year under coach Desiree Crocker. On the plus side, one of the ties came against Regis Jesuit and Grandview lost three games by a 1-0 score.
Players who accounted for seven of the eight goals collected by the Wolves last season graduated, but junior Megan Matthews is back in the goal after a strong season that saw her post five shutouts.
Seniors Kaleigh Southern and Lourdes Trujillo should provide veteran play for Grandview.
Note: Regis Jesuit takes on Grandview at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 14 at Legacy Stadium and play host to Smoky Hill at 4:15 p.m. Sept. 22. Grandview and Smoky Hill face off at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 17 at Legacy Stadium.
Key dates and information on the 2016 Aurora field hockey season, here.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or email@example.com. Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
2016 AURORA FIELD HOCKEY PLAYERS TO WATCH
Regan Cadieux, Regis Jesuit, jr.; Cassandra Hernandez, Smoky Hill, sr.;Mikayla Hernandez, Smoky Hill, sr.; Ashley Lawson, Smoky Hill, sr.; Megan Matthews, Grandview, jr.; Caroline McHugh, Regis Jesuit, sr.; Holly Miller, Smoky Hill, sr.; Kodi Paules, Smoky Hill, sr.; Maggie Pearson, Smoky Hill, sr.; Lindsey Reich, Regis Jesuit, sr.; Meredith Rogan, Regis Jesuit, sr.; Kaleigh Southern, Grandview, sr.; Lourdes Trujillo, Grandview, sr.