Four years ago, Kaitlin Denton already had set her sights on a college hockey scholarship.
At the time, she played for the Stockton Colts youth hockey team and had yet to connect with any girls or women’s teams, but she already knew that hockey was her future.
“It’s the only sport I ever played. I don’t have time for other sports,” she said. “I was determined to play, so I played with the boys until I was 14. Then, I discovered there was a girls team.”
Since then, she has been a defensive player with the San Jose Junior Sharks, which has six girls teams for ages 8 through 19. After she graduated a year early from Tracy High, Denton, 18, focused on hockey and her practices and workouts three times a week in San Jose.
Meanwhile, she has looked around to see which colleges could help her reach her goal.
She said the Sharks provided her with the opportunity to show her skills to college scouts, but she also knew her destination would be the East Coast or the northern or Midwestern states, where hockey is part of the culture and colleges have women’s teams in NCAA leagues.
“It’s not as big as men’s hockey, but it’s bigger than it is here,” she said.
She found her opportunity to take the next step in December at the Connecticut Polar Bears Christmas Tournament in New Haven, Conn. Coaches from Chatham University in Pittsburgh, Penn., were among the scouts at the tournament, which draws about 3,700 players and about 225 teams.
“If you want to be seen, that’s where you go and play your hardest,” Denton said.
Chatham offered her a partial scholarship and a place on the Cougars women’s team, which plays in the NCAA Division III Eastern College Athletic Conference West.
Denton will head out to the college next month to begin her studies in exercise science, start off-ice workouts in September and play for the Cougars during the regular season from October through March.
With her experience on the ice and educational credentials, Denton plans to establish a career in the sport. Playing is her passion, but she expects to end up qualified as a coach, manager or trainer.
“I love playing hockey and wanted to keep playing after I aged out,” she said. “It’s going to stay with me forever.”
Denton took to the game quickly along with her older brother, Kevin, and younger brother, Kyle.
They played roller hockey together, and she started to get jealous when she saw the boys play on the ice without her.
“We were standing on the boards one day, and she said, ‘It’s not fair for them to play if I can’t play,’” her father, Dave Denton, said.
She did consider other activities, including other sports and a run for the title of Tracy’s Dry Bean Festival Queen.
“I was going to try out for softball, but (hockey) practice was on the same day as tryouts,” she said. “Hockey always won over.”