Two Murray sisters play for soccer’s World CupSep 04, 2022 10:52AM ● By Shaun Delliskave
Sariah Taeoalii dribbles past a defender. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Taeoalii)
By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]
Two Murray teenage sisters, Faith and Sariah Taeoalii, had the opportunity of a lifetime to play soccer at a World Cup qualifying tournament. Both sisters, who are of Samoan heritage, were recruited by the island nation to compete in the Oceania Football Confederation Women’s Nations Cup.
Faith, a recent graduate of Murray High School, is no stranger to playing for Samoa. In 2017, she played on the Samoa U-16 National Team. She eyed playing for them again in 2020, but COVID and a measles outbreak eliminated that chance for her.
The Samoa National Team’s stakes were high for 2022, as OFC powerhouse New Zealand would be sitting out the tournament. Instead, they received an automatic bye to the World Cup since they will be hosts along with Australia. The Kiwi’s free pass gave Samoa a strong chance of advancing to the World Cup as a representative of Oceania.
Samoa knocked on the Taeoalii’s door to recruit Faith to play on the Samoa Women’s National Team. Kelly Taeoalii, Faith’s mom, told them there was a second Taeoalii who could help the team. The team initially passed on Sariah, a junior at Murray High; at age 16, she was considered much too young to play on the women’s team. However, after watching some videos of her, she too received the invitation.
“The oldest girl on the team was 30. It was nerve-wracking to know that there were girls twice my age,” Sariah said.
Faith and Sariah practiced frequently and scrimmaged before leaving Utah. Their dad, Jeremy, ran them through conditioning drills at Murray High.
“We just tried to touch around the ball as much as we possibly could,” Faith said.
However, before they headed to the tournament in Fiji, Faith had committed to a humanitarian service project in Greece to help refugees. As a result, teenage Sariah had to travel alone to meet a team full of strangers. In addition, due to the team’s COVID protocols, she was separated from her family during the tournament.
“I felt I learned a lot from the girls because they all had these different life experiences. They are all really insightful. They really took me in,” Sariah said.
One teammate, Shontelle Stevens, a mother of a 2-year-old, also had to quarantine with the rest of the team and remained separated from her child. However, she took Sariah under her wing, and they became friends.
Eventually, a jet-lagged Faith arrived just in time for the team’s first game against Polynesian rival Tonga. Unfortunately, Sariah rolled her ankle during practice, and they only got to watch Samoa beat the higher-ranked team 2-0. Still, Faith and Sariah say it was satisfying to support their team moving forward in the tournament.
In the second game of the competition, against the Cook Islands, both sisters saw significant playing time. Sariah was cleared to compete and played the entire second half of the game. Faith also played, and both got a couple of chances to threaten a goal. They beat their opponent 1 to 0.
Samoa’s good fortune on the field caught the attention of folks living in Apia, Samoa’s capital city. The Prime Minister of Samoa, Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa, attended their game against New Caledonia. Faith and Sariah played significant roles in the team’s 4-2 victory.
With three victories, the Samoa Women’s National Team had never gone so far in the tournament before. However, Papua New Guinea shut out the Samoans in the next match, and the team tied in the consolation bracket against the Solomon Islands. Still, Faith and Sariah look fondly back at their experiences.
“It was really cool, knowing that we would be representing Samoa and representing family. You would walk into practice and have a couple of fans yelling your names. It was cool and scary at the same time,” Sariah said.
So, what are their plans now that they have returned?
Faith plans on hanging up her cleats. Instead, she plans to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then head to college.
Sariah, on the other hand, is going to keep on playing. In two years, the Samoa Women’s National Team hopes to play at the Paris Olympics, and she intends to represent her ancestral homeland by playing soccer.