Sarah Toeaina waited anxiously. She was in the eighth grade, an impressionable ball girl for Kentwood High School’s girls basketball team, and Lindsey Moore, who lived just down the street from Toeaina, was going to stop by and shoot baskets with her outside her house.
Moore was a Kentwood senior at the time, still about five years away from helping the Minnesota Lynx win a WNBA title, but she made a lasting impact on Toeaina.
“She wanted me to become a better basketball player,” Toeaina said. “I would ask her questions — what her pregame rituals were, how she got herself ready before games or how she overcomes frustration on the court, and she was so honest with me.
“Everything she said, I just pocketed it and took it with me, and that definitely helped me with my high school career.”
Toeaina eventually accomplished what Moore nor any other Kentwood student ever did in accumulating 12 varsity letters in her four years.
She is The News Tribune’s All-Area female athlete of the year after culminating her career with her third trip to the state volleyball tournament, fourth state appearance in basketball and placing in the triple jump and long jump in track and field.
She had a cumulative 3.9 grade-point average and earned a scholarship to play basketball at the University of Hawaii, where both her parents went.
“My mindset going into Kentwood was that I wanted to leave my mark,” Toeaina said. “So I just took it day by day, season by season, and it turned out for the best.”
A mark at Kentwood is no ordinary accomplishment, considering the achievements by athletes before her such as Moore and Courtney Vandersloot, currently with the Chicago Sky after attending Gonzaga.
And that’s just in girls basketball. Rodney Stuckey went from Kentwood to Eastern Washington to the Detroit Pistons and this summer signed as a free agent with the Indiana Pacers. Most recently, the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Reese McGuire with the 14th pick in the 2013 MLB draft and plays for the Single-A West Virginia Power.
Jo Anne Daughtry saw them all in her 16 years as Kentwood’s athletic director and 31 total years there.
What separates Toeaina from the many Kentwood grads to become professional athletes? Nothing, Daughtry said.
“With her drive and determination, there’s no doubt, for me, that she will play in the WNBA,” Daughtry said.
Toeaina was one of the South Puget Sound League’s best girls basketball players — averaging 19.6 points and 8.6 rebounds last season — but none were more scintillating than Mount Rainier’s Brittany McPhee, who took her talents to Stanford. And despite Toeaina’s four appearances in the state basketball tournament, her team’s record at state was 0-7.
“I say it because I know what kind of kid she is and what kind of determination she has,” Daughtry said. “Is she the best athletically that’s ever come through Kentwood? You know, I don’t know. We’ve been blessed with a lot of athletes. But she has the kind of determination that we don’t see very often, the kind of determination that she can overcome anything that might hold her back.”
Toeaina comes from a household of athletes. Her sister, Alyx, was the 4A state discus champion in 2011 and competes in the shot put and discus at the University of Washington, while cousin, Matt, played for the Chicago Bears from 2007-12.
Her mother, Maile, played volleyball at Hawaii and her father, Andrew, was a linebacker for the Rainbow Warriors.
He tried out for the San Francisco 49ers after college, but suffered a knee injury that derailed his hopes for a professional career.
“Right on the spot, their coach said, ‘Thank you Mr. Toeaina, it was nice to know you,’ ” Sarah Toeaina said.
Toeaina said that’s part of the reason she hopes to continue playing beyond Hawaii — to do what her father, now a pastor at Soul’d Out Christian Center International in Kent, fell short of.
Now that she isn’t hopping from sport to sport, Toeaina said she is excited to see what she is capable of as she focuses on basketball at Hawaii.
“Starting all the way back to second grade, I’ve made so many sacrifices and worked so hard,” Toeaina said. “It’s always been a goal in the back of my mind, every day I step on the court — I want to play in the WNBA.”