Dancing through traffic: ‘Iolani’s Mokihana Tufono sets the tone

The Tufono ohana enjoys family time even with a busy schedule. From left: Jack, Albert, Pati, Misty, Mokihana and Maninoa. Photo courtesy of Mokihana Tufono.

There is a certain kind of person who makes deliveries.

A giver to the end and beyond. Someone who keeps watch and brings the goods. Just don’t be late. Be on point.

For the ‘Iolani girls volleyball team, that person is Mokihana Tufono. The 5-foot-10 senior setter with a versatile array of skills — she had 16 kills, 18 assists and two blocks against Kamehameha last week — brings the will with the skill. (The feature story on Mokihana Tufono is in today’s edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.)

“Moki is very firm. She will tell you how it is and always wants the best for the team,” outside hitter Anuhea Hauanio-Lore said. “She’s always there for us whenever we need anything and always has the best pregame playlists.”

They became fast friends during middle school.

“We played in the same club and we would have weekly workouts together. When I first met her in eighth grade, I immediately noticed how outgoing she was with the team and coaches,” Hauanio-Lore said. “I even thought she was older than me as she was so well spoken with others.”

Coach Kainoa Obrey can rely on Tufono, a co-captain since sophomore year.

‘Everyone is important and everyone has a role on our team. Mokihana is the heart of our team, especially this year. She understands what it means to play as ‘One Team’ and helps everyone get on board with what we want to accomplish,” he said. “With all the adversity we faed all season, we knew we had a chance to win every match. Mokihana made sure everyone felt this way. She’s a phenomenal leader and phenomenal person. We are happy to see her flourish with the support of the ‘Iolani School community.”

Obrey digs deep into the well of Raiders history and found a few highly notable comparisons.

“I cannot just compare her to a single player, but I would say Mokihana has attributes of three former players. Bailey Choy. Watching Mokihana set, like Bailey, is like watching a symphony in pure harmony. They both get to every pass and better the ball, making it look effortless. Simply amazing.

Ana Oglivie. Mokihana’s ability to lead is similar to that of Ana. It’s like having a coach on the floor who is in tune with what we are wanting to accomplish as a team. She is the team’s heartbeat, just like Ana.

Saige Kaahaaina-Torres. Mokihana is an ultra competitive athlete. Like Saige, she wants to win and is willing to do what is needed to give the team the best chance to be successful. Beyond her competitiveness, the physicality she brings to the volleyball court is very similar to Saige,” Obrey said. “Beyond those who played before Mokihana at ‘Iolani, I would say she also reminds me of Liz Kaaihue. Liz did everything for her team at Punahou and the way Mokihana plays is just as intense as I remember Liz playing the game.”

As the Raiders prepare for Tuesday night’s elimination match with Kamehameha — the winner claims the ILH’s second and final state-tournament berth — seniors are especially reflective of the past 20 months. Last spring, the league revived its girls volleyball season and played its season, the only league statewide to salvage girls volleyball. Kamehameha won the league title.

This fall, just a few months later, it is Punahou that is on the brink of the ILH crown. ‘Iolani is scrapping and surviving, playing without two key players due to injuries. The Raiders pushed Kamehameha to five sets in the league tournament last week. Qualifying for the state tournament is the goal, but either the No. 2 team in the state, Kamehameha, or No. 3 ‘Iolani, will close its season tonight.

“It means a lot not only to me but our whole team, especially this year. We’ve been working hard and faced a ton of adversity. Going to states would mean so much. It would prove we can get through adversity, and all it takes is trusting ourselves, our coaches and fighting for something bigger than ourselves,” Tufono said.

Obrey’s even-keeled disposition is consistently proactive.

“He usually tells us to trust each other and play as a team. He reminds us a lot to just be the best we can be in our role and try not to do too much,” Tufono said. “In order for us to be successful, everyone has to play their role to the best of their ability.”

Tufono signed a letter of intent with UCLA last week, completing a recruiting process that began with dedication on and off the court. Playing with her club, Kui Kahi, in some of the nation’s top tournaments. Working with her father, Albert, to connect with college coaches. Cobbling together video footage. Since she was a child, Tufono’s dream school was UCLA.

“I felt that history when I walked into Pauley Pavilion and especially through coaches Mike Sealy, Megan Pendergast and Eric Barber. The drive to bring the program greatness, it was a place I knew I wanted to be,” she said.

Playing in camps at UCLA during over the past three years was a big plus in the equation.

“I visited campus a couple of times during my freshman and junior seasons for camps and was immediately blown away by the environment and its surroundings. There was a positive vibe on campus and the people were extremely welcoming,” she said. “The school itself is ranked one of the top academic schools every year and because it’s been around since 1919, there’s alums that go back generations, so the network of Bruins is huge.”

Brother Maninoa Tufono is a redshirt junior football player across town at USC. He was perplexed that his school didn’t offer her a scholarship, but Mokihana Tufono is content.

“He was mad, like ‘What the heck? How are you going over there to the ‘other’ school? But in the end, we are all happy and blessed to be able to play at the next level,” she said.

Tufono will get a chance to compete right away.

“Their setter is graduating this year, so hopefully I can come in, work hard and start. There’s two other setters that are going to be juniors. They ran a 6-2 last year. This year, the setter is a transfer from Kansas State and they run a 5-1 with her. Honestly, I think whatever works, that’s what they’re going to run,” she said.

All her life, Tufono has seen up close what operating a complex situation requires. Her mother, Misty Thompson-Tufono, runs Tihati Productions. Her grandparents, Jack and Cha Thompson, founded the company. Through the ups and downs over the past half-decade, their family has been part of history in Waikiki and, as a byproduct, globally.

Mokihana Tufono’s grandparents, Cha and Jack Thompson, founded Tihati Productions. Photo courtesy of Mokihana Tufono.

“With COVID, it’s been tough with employees off, but with luaus back, my mom made us learn the numbers for the shows, so we jumped on the line and we had enough people,” Tufono said. “I like dancing at Royal (Hawaiian Hotel) because it’s kind of in the heart of Waikiki and Diamond Head is in the back. So historic.”

On stage or with family, the dancing doesn’t end. Tufono’s favorite song to dance to is “Royal Hawaiian Hotel.”

“Every Sunday is kanikapila style and everyone dances after church. You don’t really grow up shy in our household,” she said.

Misty Thompson-Tufono and daughter Mokihana cherish their time spending kapa together. Photo courtesy of Mokihana Tufono.

The quieter moments are treasured. When her mother learned to make kapa, they found another way to bond.

“I love to spend time with my mom pounding, dying and printing kapa. I love doing that with her. My mom took a class and fell in love with it. She usually prints kapa for the shows. When we need costumes, she makes them,” Tufono said.

If she could access a time machine, a message to 12-year-old Mokihana:

“I would tell my 12-year-old self to relax. Keep working hard, but enjoy yourself because the time flies.”

Mokihana Tufono’s lockdown staples

Top 3 movies/shows:

1. “White Chicks”

2. “Crazy Rich Asians”

3. “Letter to Juliet”

“ ‘White Chicks’ and ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ are funny. ‘White Chicks’ is hilarious, the dancing is hilarious.”

Top 3 food/drinks/snacks

1. Puna Deah’s cornbread

“That’s my great-grandma. She made the best cornbread I ever had. She passed away in 2016. My auntie (Shalei Eleneke) makes it whenever there’s special occasions like birthdays, or whenever we ask, honestly. I can’t make it. I can’t cook at all. It’s timing and patience which I have a hard time with.”

2. Papa’s roast pork with gravy

“My papa makes this. He can cook! And he doesn’t use measurements and it comes out perfect every time.”

3. Mom’s shepherd’s pie

“My mom makes this from scratch, but she doesn’t put carrots in. My brothers don’t eat carrots. Hamburger, brown gravy, corn, mashed potatoes and cheese on the top. And she learned that from Kamehameha Schools. Everybody claims that’s their favorite dish from her.”

Top 3 music artists (favorite song by each):

1. Lauryn Hill – “I Gotta Find Peace of Mind”

2. Madison Ryann Ward – “Player”

3. Sammy Johnson – “Waiting “

Favorite class, favorite teacher: 7th Grade Bible, Mrs. Vanessa Fowler (Kaimuki Christian School)

“I grew up in the church, learning about bible stories. I love my teacher. She was super nice. She was patient with all of us and made class fun. She helped us stay engaged.”

Time machine

“From the stories I heard growing up from my grandparents in Waikiki in the late ‘60s and ‘70s I would love to be there. It seemed like a carefree and classy time of Hawaiian music and hula. When my grandpa was a bouncer at Duke’s, Duke Kahanamoku actually ate there one time. He asked for poi and my papa was the one who brought the bowl of poi to him.”

GPA: 3.4

“In our house if you get good grades, you get a high five, wash the dishes and clothes, and take out the trash. But we get good food.”

New life skill: cooking

“I’m trying to learn to cook before I go away, but it’s not going too well. I want to make my Puna Deah’s pancakes. Just plain pancakes. It’s so good. I don’t know. I just don’t think I’m a good cook. I don’t think I was made to cook. My mom played tennis in high school, and she’s a good cook, so she says I have no excuse.”

Brother power

Jack is 23. He is coaching getting his masters at Arizona State. Maninoa is redshirt junior at USC and he’s a Business major. Pati is 13, in seventh grade at Kaimuki Christian.

“Jack and Maninoa went straight from Wilson (Elementary School) to Punahou. We applied for Punahou, but growing up I kind of wanted to make my own name and my dad went to ‘Iolani.”

Shout outs:

“I’m so grateful for my parents and all the sacrifices they’ve made for my throughout my life. Also to my brothers Jack, Maninoa and Pati. They’ve instilled in me a competitive drive while also being the best and loving brothers I could have ever asked for.”


  1. Max Fowler November 17, 2021 5:29 pm

    Go Mokihana! We are so proud of you!!!

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