Kachinas’ LaCombe makes history as association’s first-ever NCAA advancement
With the second half of the hockey season here and in full swing, players at all levels have started to look at options for the 2020-21 season.
For Kiera LaCombe, she made her choice in December, committing to attend and play NCAA Division III hockey for Wilkes University. In making that choice, LaCombe becomes the first player from the Arizona Kachinas girls program to make a college commitment.
“I decided to take a trip out to Florida last spring for a college hockey showcase and a couple of weeks after, I was contacted by the coach of Wilkes (Earl Utter) via email,” said LaCombe, a defenseman on the Kachinas 19U team. “The school itself was small, how I liked it, and it had quite a few majors that were all on my list, so if I wanted to change, I could. It was also the perfect distance from everything. In terms of hockey, the team is new, and I liked the feeling that I wasn’t just a number to them, but an individual.
“I did feel this sense of achievement when I got back from my final visit because I knew I was setting an example for the girls younger than me who look up to us on the older teams. I got to have plenty of those role models when I lived up north, and I hope that seeing someone in their program already committing shows them that they can put themselves out there as players as well.”
Wilkes University is located in Wilkes-Barre, Penn., and has over 2,200 undergraduates and over 2,200 graduate students. The women’s hockey program, which plays in the Middle Atlantic Conference, is now in its third season of existence.
Vanessa Maines, the head coach of the Kachinas 19U team, co-director of hockey operations and director of college recruiting and social media, said she is “beyond excited” in seeing LaCombe make her commitment to Wilkes.
“Kiera has been such a hard worker for the past few years we have been fortunate to have her, so to see that pay off for her is so awesome,” Maines said. “The best part about this commitment is that it not only benefits Kiera, but the entire association. This gives so many of our other girls, especially the younger ones, to see their potential and know that if they, too, work hard enough, they can have the same opportunities.”
Maines added that moving players on to college teams was one of the goals when the Kachinas program was founded in 2019.
“Yes, we are so incredibly thrilled to have been able to check this off our list for first-year goals,” said Maines. “The college recruitment side of the game is something I am so passionate about, so when our executive team got together to discuss first-year goals, we knew that with the talent we have, we had the potential to help kids get to where they want to be in the next steps of their college careers and Kiera is the first example of that.”
“This is obviously a huge moment for the Kachinas association,” said Arizona Coyotes director of amateur hockey development Matt Shott. “Vanessa Maines has done a great job as our college recruiter, and this is just the first of many.”
Originally from New York, LaCombe’s journey has taken her to many stops along the way but getting the opportunity with the Kachinas has done amazing wonders for her overall development.
“I lived in New York until I was 12 and after that, I was off to North Dakota until around October 2018, which is when I wound up here,” LaCombe said. “This was back when Lady Coyotes was the primary girls team in Arizona. I played with them for two years until it disbanded last spring. I was actually quite anxious about where I’d be playing this year until Maines told me about the Kachinas and I attended their summer ice slots. My family has always been a big hockey family, so my sister and I also gravitated towards it.”
LaCombe also talked about getting her start in hockey many years ago back home.
“I lived in a small town in upstate New York called Waddington,” she said. “It was right on the St. Lawrence River and about a 15-minute drive from the rink in Louisville, where I started skating on hockey skates when I was 2. I played my first game when I was 4 years old.”
Fast forward to present day, and LaCombe’s commitment is something that shows how the girls game keeps growing in the United States, especially in Arizona and in the southwestern U.S.
“Being from the East Coast myself, it is so much easier to be seen and recruited,” Maines said. “Having been out in Arizona the past five years, it is much harder for the girls to be seen, but things are shifting and changing and the southwest is now providing more top-tier talent and schools are starting to take notice.”
Maines also feels LaCombe’s commitment is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to NCAA commitments.
“Yes, I really do believe that Kiera is just the beginning to many of our girls taking the next steps in their hockey careers and going on to play at higher levels,” said Maines. “As part of my role with the Kachinas, I work one on one with the girls that have interest in playing college hockey and that in and of itself has grown so much over the past couple of years. With the development plan that we have in place with the Kachinas, we are putting the players in a position to be successful year after year, working on their skills, and preparing them for what it takes to play in college.
“I think the future is incredibly bright for our girls who do want to play at that next level and I cannot wait to see more commitments in our near future.”
Moving ahead, LaCombe wants to finish the current season on a strong note, but also has an eye on her impending college career and beyond.
“Recently, I’ve been switching around what I want to do after I graduate college, but at the moment, my intended major is History Education,” said LaCombe. “Throughout college, however, I’m just happy to play at a high level and learn in an environment that makes me feel at home. Afterwards, in the way of hockey, I’m hoping to get into coaching a team like the one I play on right now.
“I just know that I never want to stop contributing my part to the game, whether it be reffing or coaching or playing.”
— Matt Mackinder
(Feb. 10, 2020)