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Palmer Ridge continues to look for growth spurt
At a time when the Colorado high school field hockey scene has shrunk to 13 teams, Palmer Ridge is thriving. In its four years of existence, the program has never finished lower than fifth and is 38-9-6 (10-1 this season).
“We have some really good athletes in this area,” Palmer Ridge coach Paul Lewis said. “They seem to pick it up really well; we do a lot in a short period of time.”
While the Bears have yet to rise above third in the regular-season standings, the map for greater success is in place.
“We are going up against some pretty tough high schools that have a much better feeder program,” Lewis said. “That’s one of the big things I’ve been implementing the past four years is trying to build our feeder program. Last year, we started a middle school program for the first time.”
Casey Deeds is in her fourth season with the program. She played junior varsity her first season, advanced to varsity as a sophomore and then blossomed as a junior, leading the team in assists (nine) and also scoring seven goals.
“A couple of people had told me that it was really fun, so I decided I would go out and give it a shot,” said Deeds, who has 11 goals and a team-best 16 assists this season. “Coach Paul was great and he really got me into it.”
Then there’s Jessica Berg. One of the state’s best lacrosse players, she decided to try field hockey for the first time this year and has scored a team-best 14 goals.
“My friends were playing before I was,” Berg said. “Once I wasn’t doing volleyball anymore (in the fall), I wanted to do another sport so I thought I’d take up field hockey.”
Berg’s success is atypical. She is an exceptional athlete and her lacrosse experience also helps.
“I think that the field play is similar, so I know where to be on defense and I know how to be in the little holes for passes and stuff,” she said.
But the driving force behind the Bears is Lewis. An 11-year member of the U.S. national team, he has a contagious passion for the sport.
Aside from the Bears’ success, he’s also coached a first-place team at the National Futures Championships and led the U.S. Junior Olympic Team to a third-place finish.
“I’ve been having a good coaching year this year,” he laughed.
He hopes that success continues this week. Palmer Ridge faces 8-0-2 Kent Denver on Monday and 10-0-2 Colorado Academy on Wednesday.
“This is a big decider for us to see how we rank in with these two teams,” Lewis said. “We were starting with a brand new team this season and for them to do what they’re doing is pretty good. I think our chances are really strong. It’s within their grasp.”
But while getting into the top two is important, Lewis has another, larger goal in mind. Palmer Ridge and Cheyenne Mountain are the only two field hockey programs in the area.
“It’s such an awesome game to play,” he said. “I’d love to develop a bunch of high schools in this area to pick it up.”