Grace Amsden, Senior Reporter
In the middle of the court stands 13 individuals wearing white shirts and black shorts. They’ve just finished their team huddle and yelled “family” before splitting off to their positions. Raider Athletics volleyball libero Malia Fakatoufifita is one of these athletes. Her hair is styled in a top bun, and she fashions the same black Nike headband she’s worn every game since her sophomore year. The words “never give up” take the form of a tattoo on her left arm.
Fakatoufifita, who lives by a “never give up” attitude, doesn’t ever want to take volleyball for granted.
“If one day I was unable to play, I’d be heartbroken, if that were to ever happen,” Fakatoufifita said. “Every time I step on court – every practice, every game – I always take advantage of my opportunities.”
When Fakatoufifita was eight years old, her volleyball journey began. She played in her first volleyball game alongside her friends – and teammates – in a rec-team coached by her mother.
“My mom and I got together and joined the (Summit-Parkland Youth Associate) RAGE volleyball,” Fakatoufifita said. “We got all my friends together and we made this team – we were called the V-Ballers.”
Although Fakatoufifita, her mother and teammates didn’t have volleyball experience, they learned along the way. The first game was held at Franklin Pierce High School, which was a unique experience to Fakatoufifita, as she and her friends knew this was the high school they’d eventually attend; she’s now an FP graduate.
In eighth grade, her volleyball journey continued when she wanted to play club. While at a camp for club sports, she met Greg Finel, the head volleyball coach at Pierce. Because of his genuine kindness, she said this is one reason she wanted to play club. When he later approached her about playing for Pierce, she said yes.
When Fakatoufifita attended FP, she played volleyball all four years. During her junior year, the team was first in their league and went to state to compete against Lindbergh High School.
“That win was amazing, going to state,” Fakatoufifita said. “We had to knock a team that’s been going to state for years. It was so intense. (When) the last point on the ball finally dropped, it felt like it was a frozen moment. We just all went to the center of the court, piled up on top of each other because we were just so excited.”
During her senior year, the team was second in the league. Fakatoufifita also lettered in volleyball, and received the Tacoma Athlete Commission Athlete of the Year award for volleyball.
“It was especially amazing because people who underestimated me were in the same room as me as my name was called – coaches that wouldn’t play me were in there,” Fakatoufifita said. “Receiving that award was like, look what I can do. I kind of proved myself.”
When it comes to games, Fakatoufifita said her family is her biggest support system. Her parents and grandparents attend her games whenever they can. She also has two sisters, who push her to be her best, she said.
“I don’t know what I’d do without them,” Fakatoufifita said. “I try to devote a lot of time when I’m
not working or playing volleyball with them.”
Ever since Fakatoufifita was young, her mother told her the three words now tattooed on her arm: to never give up. She and her mother got this identical tattoo at the same time and place.
This wasn’t Fakatoufifita’s first tattoo, however. She currently has 11, and wants more. Many of these tattoos center around her family. On her thigh, she has a tribal piece – a type of tattoo Polynesians get, she said. In this case, the story is of her family. The flowers represent her two sisters and herself.
On her back, the two tattooed roses represent her great grandmother.
“At my grandma’s house, we have a rose garden for my great grandma, and she was a big part of my life,” Fakatoufifita said. “When she passed away, that was rough.”
On her ribcage, she has the tattooed words “Ofa Lahi Atu,” which is Tongan for “I love you more.” This is for her grandmother, she said, because her grandmother always gets the final say of “I love you more.” Tattooed on her right wrist is the word “famili” which means family in Tongan.
She also has tattooed birth dates for her father, mother and two sisters on her arm. She’d like to get another rose, and the birth and death year for her great grandmother.
Fakatoufifita said her volleyball teammates also feel like a family. The team bonds through potlucks, watching movies, putting on music and dancing. Laughter is what ultimately brings the team together, she said.
“Honestly, I’m probably one of the goofiest people you’ve ever met in your life,” Fakatoufifita said. “I’m so goofy. I like to be loud. I’ll just yell in games, get excited, and I think a lot of people feed off of that energy.”
Aside from volleyball and school, Fakatoufifita works as a sales associate at Charisse’s Consignment Corner in Downtown Puyallup. She’s worked here for about a year and a half. It’s a small world when it comes to connecting with customers, she said.
“Family always comes up in the conversation,” Fakatoufifita said. “I’ll always ask about their kids, and somehow I’ll know their kids that go to Puyallup High School or Graham Kapowsin.”
Art is also something of great interest to Fakatoufifita – especially glass work. The Seattle Art Museum is one place she tries to visit monthly. She took art classes in high school, including one for stained glass.
“I brought wine bottles to school one time, and my art teacher put them in the kiln and melted them down,” Fakatoufifita said, “and then we put a little piece of wood where the top of the wine bottle is, and they were like serving trays.”
In her free time, Fakatoufifita hangs out with teammates Arielle Barber and Malia Tucker, who usually go to Buffalo Wild Wings. Tucker also said her volleyball teammates are her best friends and sisters.
“Just like any normal family, we butt heads sometimes at practice on and off the court,” Tucker said. “But at the end of the day, we still are always there for each other. We’re always cracking jokes.”
Looking toward the future, Fakatoufifita would like to transfer to a four-year university after earning an associate of arts degree from Pierce. She plans to major in education and become a high school biology teacher and coach high school volleyball.
“I want to build a program from the bottom up like my high school coach did,” Fakatoufifita said. “She kind of inspired me to do that.”
She’d also like to be a mentor to children in need of support, helping them choose the right path in life.
“Me growing up with a great support system, it shaped me into this young, ambitious adult that I am today,” Fakatoufifita said. “If everyone had that opportunity, then the world would be a better place.”
With family and friends by her side, Fakatoufifita would like to one day be a motivational speaker, and travel to Italy and Tonga. She’d also like to play volleyball as long as she can. No matter what, she never wants to give up.
“I say that to myself all the time: never give up, Malia – you got this,” Fakatoufifita said. “No matter how hard something is, you’ll get through it.”
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