A Farrington Coaching Champion
Wednesday - February 11, 2009
Twenty years ago, in 1989, Caroline Tatupu finished a brilliant playing career with the Iolani girls basketball team. In her four years there, the cousin of former NFL star Mosi Tatupu helped her team claim four straight ILH championships and two state titles.
“I played center; Melanie Azama was our point guard,” she recalls of those outstanding teams.
Fast forward two decades later and Tatupu is now coaching the Farrington Governors’ girls basketball team. In just her second year at the helm, she has the Governors playing at the same championship level she realized herself in the late 1980s at Iolani.
“That’s our goal,” she says. “We have coaches on our staff with championship experience. (Her assistant Steven Leopoldo helped lead Farrington to an OIA title in 1983.) We know what it takes and we know what it feels like; we want our girls here to have that same feeling. We think if we continue to work hard, we believe we can make it happen.”
That’s truly a remarkable statement when you understand recent championship history. For years, the ILH and the Big Island schools have dominated the girls basketball Division I tournaments. And Farrington has rarely been a big factor -until now.
This year, the Governors are the No. 1-ranked team in the entire state.
“I guess I’m not surprised where we are,” says Tatupu, “but I am surprised at all the attention we’re getting.”
That attention began right at the beginning of this incredible season. In early December, at the first-ever girls basketball version of the nationally recognized Iolani Classic, Farrington burst onto the scene with a last-second victory over nationally ranked Westlake, Ga. That 54-53 win came after the Governors stormed back from a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter, and it wasn’t completed until Brydgette Tatupu-Leopoldo (Coach Caroline’s niece) hit a falling down layup at the buzzer. What made the game winner all the more improbable is that Farrington began the sequence nearly 70 feet from the basket and with only about 2 seconds left on the clock. But they got it done!
“At halftime, we told the girls ‘never give up,’” the coach remembers. “It was a big win not just for our girls, but also for our state.”
They followed that incredible win with victory after victory against tough local competition until they were soon perched in the No. 1 spot in virtually every Hawaii high school girls basketball ranking. With the OIA championships and then the HHSAA championships on the horizon later this month, the Governors are quickly realizing that anything is possible.
“Our success has come from dedication, hard work and the fact that each girl knows her own role,” Tatupu says. “They’ve learned the kind of commitment and effort that it takes.”
And that commitment and effort comes in the classroom, as well. “We always stress academics first,” she says. “Doing well in academics is what allows us to even participate in athletics.”
It’s also something that is very near and dear to Tatupu’s heart. In her full-time position at Farrington, she runs the school’s college counseling center. She’s seen several former Farrington athletes go on to study and play at the next level.
But her focus now is pushing her Farrington team toward its ultimate goal of winning the title. So many players have made an impact. Besides Brydgette, some of the team’s top scorers are Lusina Otineru, Kirsten Liana, Natalie Mata, Valerie Lesu, and Sofia Folaumahina. Many other players also have made an impact, but it’s interesting that the Governors also have a reserve player by the name of Lucky Crichton.
Perhaps all the luck this year is good luck at Farrington.
With Caroline Tatupu at the coaching controls, she’ll say it’s not luck at all. It’s all about dedication, hard work and commitment that makes her Governors the winningest high school girls basketball team in the state this year.
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