By JOE FERRARO
Saxon Nagata thought she had determined her college future months ago.
Having received an acceptance letter from the University of Utah, she’d head to Salt Lake City and major in pharmaceutical science. That was the plan.
All of a sudden, Linfield College swooped in, providing a similar curriculum and something no other college had offered Nagata: a chance to play soccer at the next level and some money to offset her college costs.
So much for Nagata’s original plan.
Just prior to graduating from Konawaena, Nagata received a financial aid package that will cover approximately 55 percent of her college costs at Linfield.
“I was just happy that someone was interested in me,’’ said Nagata, who will remain a Wildcat at the Division III school in McMinnville, Ore. “I didn’t think I was going to play anywhere.”
Nagata said her father, former Konawaena football coach Aaron Nagata, encouraged her to consider a handful of colleges in Oregon.
The elder Nagata went to Willamette University in Salem, Ore., so he was familiar with the Pacific Northwest. He sent game film of his daughter to Linfield coach Dominic Doty, who came away impressed with what he saw.
“It’s pretty rare when I see the videotape, and it’s the player we want,’’ said Doty, who will enter his fifth season with the Wildcats. “She’s a middle of the field player, and her vision is exceptional.
“Defensively, she looks strong, and her athletic presence is pretty good.”
For most of her high school career, Nagata played in the midfield, scoring 25 goals. Last season, she led Konawaena to a 12-2-2 record and the Wildcats first Big Island Interscholastic Federation girls soccer championship since 2008. Along the way, Nagata earned BIIF Division I Player of the Year honors.
As a softball player, Nagata helped the Wildcats make three Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II state tournaments in the past four seasons, with Konawaena winning back-to-back BIIF Division II titles in 2010 and 2011.
Doty said several freshman have earned starting positions at Linfield and that Nagata could follow suit. But he’ll need to see Nagata perform on the field first.
Last season, Linfield (16-2-2) was the Northwest Conference runner-up, setting a single-season team record for wins.
“We never promise anything,’’ Doty said. “It’s all earned.”
Nagata said the topic of playing time never came up when she and Doty spoke over the phone. For the time being, Nagata is just happy her athletic career isn’t over.
Linfield didn’t admit her as a student until late April. Before receiving her acceptance letter from Linfield, Nagata was sure she was going to Utah. Instead, she’s headed to McMinnville, and she’ll have the opportunity to see much more outside her college campus.
“It gives me more freedom outside of studying,’’ Nagata said. “I can travel to different places.’’
What would have happened if she had gone to Utah?
“I would probably gain the freshman 15,’’ Nagata said.
Reach Joe Ferraro at firstname.lastname@example.org