A ragtag team of misfits pulled together from different schools bonds together like a family and outplays its more physically skilled counterparts.
The Fire draws its players from Rocky Mountain, Fort Collins, Poudre and Fossil Ridge high schools, but this season was “localized” to Fossil Ridge.
While it is still technically a school district team, now the Fire has access to training facilities, regular practice fields and an athletic support staff that can help with supplies.
“I have a lot more resources than I did in the past. Right now my game goals need repair, so the district is right on it getting them fixed,” Fire coach Nick Morales said. “Before, I had to do a lot of the footwork myself. Having the support staff is a lot better than having to do it myself.”
Morales started as the Fire’s head coach in 2009 but has been involved with the program since 2007 when his daughter played for the team.
“As a parent, I went to all of her practices, I never understood what field hockey was at that time. So I took interest, I learned about the sport,” he said.
Not knowing much about the sport but getting involved to spend time with someone you care about echoes through the Fire team. Many of the girls have little or no experience with the sport but joined because of word of mouth or to be with their friends.
“It’s an experience to try something new; I know the reason why I did it was to get to know the girls from different schools,” goalie Connor Payne said.
Having such a diverse team with players from so many schools has fostered the family environment, rather than creating divisions.
“We don’t have the cliques; it’s so much more unified,” Payne said. “We just know each other from the sport, and we love each other.”
That’s not to say that sometimes the school divisions don’t creep into friendly on-field banter.
“They like to pick on each other for whose football team does well and that kind of stuff, but it’s never that serious,” assistant coach Erik Curtis said.
The coaches’ toughest challenge in terms of dealing with so many schools is communicating with their players.
“We have to deal with four different athletic directors; some schools are really welcoming for us to come in like Fossil Ridge, while others are a little more difficult,” Curtis said.
In spite of the occasional communication difficulty, the Fire has built a successful program despite many of its players having little or no field hockey experience.
“I didn’t even know what a field hockey stick looked like when I came in, and I made varsity in my second year,” defender Terry Lou Bettis said. “It’s definitely a fostering environment.”
Some of the players who play field hockey come from lacrosse and ice hockey.
Although the sports are similar, skills do not necessarily transfer.
There’s definitely an adjustment period,” Curtis said. “The field position and field sense translates over, and some of the ice hockey stick skills work. But the stick skills are unique to field hockey.”
The majority of Fire players are new to the sport, but that level playing field helps foster the team’s sense of community and family.
“We have more fun that way because everyone starts on that same suck level, and everyone gets better together,” midfielder Raychl Reger said.
Morales’ biggest challenge in coaching the team has nothing to do with on the field play, but rather managing the personalities of his players and their difference from his own gender.
“For a male coach to teach a girl how to play has always been a challenge. I have to understand them and look for their strengths and weaknesses” he said. “I can’t bark at them like if I was coaching football. I have to get to their level and their understanding.”
The Fire made the state quarterfinals last season and regularly qualify for the state playoffs even though they regularly compete against large private schools with much larger budgets.
“Knowing we can come together as a whole bunch of random people from different schools and go and compete at that high level is something really special about our team,” Payne said.
The team opened the 2012 season with two bitter losses to Colorado Academy and Grandview, conceding goals in the final seconds of both games.
They fell 3-1 at home to Cherry Creek without Payne in goal due to an injury suffered against Grandview.
The Fire will take the field again Friday against Golden at home.
“Even if you just come and fill the stands, support is good,” Bettis said.
“You don’t know if you like it until you actually try it,” forward Molly Reger said.