Sports

Hoops star dribbling to Hawaii after state

Kentwood senior Sarah Toeaina posts up a defender while practicing against the boys team on Feb. 27, in preparation for postseason play. - Eric Mandel
Kentwood senior Sarah Toeaina posts up a defender while practicing against the boys team on Feb. 27, in preparation for postseason play.
— image credit: Eric Mandel

The KW-09 ball is finally resting, strategically tucked into the corner of a door frame inside the Kentwood gym, closest to the court where Sarah Toeaina is about to start team drills.

As soon as Toeaina entered the gym for practice, the orange sphere with the black marker inscription started its familiar motions: being dribbled between her legs, tossed in circles around her torso, passed from fingertip to fingertip between her hands.

Always moving, always within reach.

The soft-spoken senior said the “kay-dub, oh-nine” balls have the best texture — supremely smooth, with less gap between the seams.

But there’s more to the story than that.

Jenny Johnson, her teammate since seventh grade, recalls when the pair worked as ball girls for the Kentwood 2009 team. That group won state. This is a reminder.

“I always have a ball ready,” Toeania said. “I like it in my hands; it feels right.”

Toeania’s Kentwood squad (20-5) crashed through to the final eight state championship tournament with a 65-55 win over Chiawana at Richland High in the win-or-go-home 4A regional tournament on March 1. That means a date with Lynwood (23-1), the top-ranked 4A team, at the Tacoma Dome on March 6. Kentwood knocked Lynwood out of state contention with a one-point win last season.

Head coach Lisa Ashley said her squad showed the best “team ball” of the year in the Chiawana win, taking some of the pressure off the nearly 6-foot-tall Toeania, who has used the leather like few others in the state in 2014.

The athletic point guard averaged nearly 20 points per game in the regular season and was among the nominees for the 2014 McDonald’s All American Games. She was recently named to the SPSL 4A All-League first team for the third time. She called the all-league selection “very humbling,” even though she has received the honor for multiple sports in her career.

Toeaina, who said she fell in love with basketball in second grade, signed a letter of intent to play with the University of Hawaii.

Her parents are University of Hawaii alumni and she has chunks of family from both sides living on the island.

“It’s like I’m not leaving,” she said.

Toeaina has been a dominant force for the last four years in three sports — basketball, volleyball and track — breaking the school’s triple jump record last year.  All of her teams have made state. Kentwood Athletics Director Jo Anne Daughtry said Toeaina is the school’s first ever 12 sport letter winner.

Although there was an opportunity to also play collegiate volleyball Toeaina said she is sticking to her first love.

“I want to finally focus on one sport,” she said. “Juggling three, sometimes four, can be tough.”

The Kentwood girls basketball program has a strong tradition with two alumni in the WNBA — Courtney Vandersloot and Lindsey Moore. Despite all of Toeaina’s individual accolades, Ashley said her star player’s biggest strength may be her drive to always make the team better.

“And she’s always happy,” Ashley said.

Johnson said her friend always brings a positive approach to the court.

“She just wants to win,” she said. “You can’t ask for any more than that.”

 

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