Murray girls learn about their heritage while playing soccer on the U-16 Samoan national team
Nov 01, 2017 10:00AM
● By Carl Fauver
Lani Lautaimi of Murray tries to control the ball while playing for a Samoan national team. (Corinne Talaeai)
It’s tempting to call the trip Faith Taeoalii, 13, and Lani Lautaimi, 16, took this summer a once in a lifetime adventure. But that’s not really true, because both hope and plan to make the same trek again in two years.
Still, you only get to visit Samoa for the first time, once. So, from that standpoint, what the Murray soccer players did was unique.
About halfway between Hawaii and Australia lie the two primary islands that make up Samoa. American Samoa is in the area too, but that’s something completely different.
Because Faith and Lani are each one-quarter Samoan, they were eligible to play on the U-16 Samoan national team. And they both say it’s something they’ll never forget.
“It was so wonderful to learn about my culture while playing the sport I love,” Lani said. “I don’t think the level of play was quite as high as we have with my team here. But (the Samoan U-16 national team) is working hard to improve.”
Because she was at the top of the age group, at 16, Lani was a key player on the team. She next hopes to play for the Samoan U-19 team when they convene in two years.
Meantime, Faith was the youngest and smallest on the team and played in only one of their three games. But she hopes to play for the same U-16 Samoan team in two years.
“I’ve been playing soccer steadily since kindergarten,” Faith said. “This trip was the most fun I’ve ever had with my sport. It was so exciting to represent my family and my heritage. Having my mom and sisters come to see the final game made it that much better.”
Kelly Taeoalii and her younger daughters (Sariah, 11 and Grace, 9) arrived in Samoa about three weeks after Faith, attending her final game on August 12. They also had the chance to visit with relatives, sightsee, snorkel and swim with turtles, among other things.
“It was so fun to see my daughter do something she loves in such a different setting,” Kelly said. “She also did a lot of growing up on the trip. She lived in a dorm at the soccer complex with her teammates and did her own laundry. It was a great experience for her.”
Besides never visiting Samoa before, Lani and Faith had also never flown in a plane without a parent before this trip.
“We were very hesitant about sending Lani when we first heard about the opportunity,” her mother, Corinne Talaeai said. “We researched it and called the (Samoan national soccer) facility just to make sure everything was legit. Once we were comfortable (sending Lani), it turned out to be so good for her.”
Talaeai said all of the girls learned about the Samoan culture, memorized their national anthem and even became mini celebrities.
“Lani said she was asked for her autograph a couple of times,” Corinne added. “That’s pretty cool for a 16-year-old girl.”
Faith and Lani were joined on the team by a third girl from the United States. Andreya Tuigaoliula Hall lives in Washington State and quickly became friends with the Murray girls.
The U-16 Samoan national team was put out of the tournament with a record of 1-2, with a win over Tahiti and losses to New Caledonia and New Zealand.
Both girls say their Samoan coach was a little “louder and more intense” than they were accustomed to. But, like living in a dorm and washing their own clothes, the girls adjusted.
“The coaches told us ahead of time ‘we’re going to yell at you on the field, but that’s just because we want you to get better’ —and then they did,” Faith said. “Overall, the practices were more intense than I am used to here.”
“The team also visited a nursing home and a school,” Kelly Taeoalii added. “Their adventures generated plenty of interest on the island, including a number of newspaper articles.”
Kelly said her family heard about the playing opportunity simply through word of mouth. Because Faith and Lani are distant relatives, Kelly told them about it as well.
“The team and their sponsors paid for everything…airfare, meals and lodging at the dorm,” Kelly said. “All the girls really needed was a little spending money.”
But Lani’s mom didn’t agree completely.
“We did have to pay her $800 data bill for the cell phone,” Corinne Talaeai added. “You know, 16-year-olds will be 16-year-olds no matter where they go.”
Now back in the states, Faith is an 8th grader at Riverview Junior High while Lani is a junior at Murray High School.
And they are each eyeing a possible return to Samoa in 2019.