Senior Night at Kaimuki was about to begin, moments after a 58-42 win over Kalani sealed first place in the OIA East for the Bulldogs girls basketball team.
There it was, framed, a certificate of recognition from the State Legislature. Kaimuki coach Mona Fa‘asoa, the honoree. There was more. Another certificate, this one in a big envelope, commemorating recognition from Gov. David Ige. Fa‘asoa, the demanding, intense guru, began to melt. Every 10 seconds, she wiped more tears from her eyes. Nobody sees Coach Fa‘asoa like this. She couldn’t escape. There was the Senior Night festivities and coach is the MC.
The timing was perfect. Whoever figured out when to catch the crafty Fa‘asoa off guard is, for all practical purposes, a genius.
“I never expected this,” she said, a mix of joy, tears and surprise on her face.
A few moments later, the show began. It was, as she said on the microphone, not about her on this night. It was all about their seniors.
So quickly, the time that has passed, since Mona Fa‘asoa was a young coach.
Her legacy was already golden long ago. Her daughters rose up to become scholar-athletes at Kaimuki. They fueled their girls basketball teams at Kaimuki to new heights. Each graduated, Coach Fa‘asoa might have entertained thoughts of taking a break, finally. She never let on. The years passed. Kaimuki teams continued to be very competitive. Down years came, she remained. But as her youngest son approached high school age, that itch to pull back, step down and simply be an enthused parent in the bleachers was tough to tame.
Two years ago, she was basically an inch away from retiring, resigning, whatever word or phrase fits. The reaction from Bulldog alums, fans, friends — resoundingly opposed to such a thing. Fa‘asoa hardly meant to become a living symbol of a school that had endured shrinking enrollment — and a shrinking district — but in so many ways, the hard-nosed disciplinarian clearly was and is what Kaimuki has always been about. Espousing the merits of hard work, of taking initiative academically through a program that allows high-achieving students to gain college credits. Of being coachable.
Fast-forward to the 2016-17 basketball season. From the time “Auntie Mona” opted to stick around a little while more, the work remained constant. Victoria Kintz, who had been cut from varsity tryouts at MPI as a freshman, was still getting over the heartbreak. She didn’t even bother playing JV basketball for the Owls. Instead, she became a familiar face at Kaimuki after school, become the varsity team’s water girl. A young student-athlete who had attended the coach’s informal, offseason workouts — open to anyone from any school — stayed around to get that work in.
“She was a friend of a friend’s daughter. I was trying to get her into private school. She belongs with better players. I called Chico (Furtado of Maryknoll),” Fa‘asoa recalled.
Eventually, summer arrived, and Kintz wasn’t around so much. Or at all. There was no sign of Kintz, no contact. Then, just before the new school year began, Fa‘asoa got a phone call. Kintz was enrolling at Kaimuki.
“I was, ‘Whaaat?’ ‘Cause we didn’t really have a strong team,” Fa‘asoa said.
Her first season, as a sophomore, was rough. The team was young. Kintz was, by far, the most competitive and skilled player on the team, which was in Division II. She never let on that she was frustrated or disappointed.
“My thing to her was, ‘I never asked you to come here. You make the team better.’ That’s always been our motto. It takes a leader to make a team better,” Fa‘asoa said.
The Bulldogs kept working diligently in the offseason. Kintz’s junior season was promising. She was, again, a force as a scorer and playmaker. New contributors like Kaelyn Espinda, Sonia Palik and Sirena Titer — now dangerous playmakers with 3-point prowess — showed great potential. Yet, the team was still young. Fa‘asoa looked to the future.
The 2016-17 season arrived, and as a butterfly exits cocoon, the Bulldogs’ return to Division I has been triumphant. Not only did Kaimuki compete, the ‘Dogs finished first in the OIA East with a 9-1 mark and will enter the playoffs ranked in the Star-Advertiser Girls Basketball Top 10 for the first time in years.
Kintz can be an unstoppable torrent going to the basket, or hit the pull-up J. She can hit the 3, of course, but on a team loaded with long-range gunners, she has embraced her role as the hub. She is part-point guard, part-distributor from the high post. She plays center, she plays guard. She is, in some ways, an on-court mother hen to a talented team of underclassmen.
On Senior Night, she didn’t say a whole lot, but her words made a huge impact. As is Fa‘asoa’s custom, her players used their time on the microphone to thank their families. Kintz thanked her parents and teammates, and when she thanked Fa‘asoa, there was scarcely a dry eye in the suddenly quiet crowd at Kaimuki.
“Auntie Mona, thank you for (giving) life back to my basketball dream,” she said. “I remember the day when I got cut in varsity at Mid-Pac and you asked why I got cut, and I told you, and you couldn’t believe it. For the first time, I started loving basketball again when I came here. I thank you.”
In three years, Kintz had never mentioned being cut at Mid-Pacific. Never mentioned how close she was to losing the sport she cherished. Kintz may well steer the Bulldogs deep into the D-I playoffs. An OIA championship? Why not. A state title? Who knows.
The trade-off of staying in a place, in a position, carrying the burden of great success in years past at a school with dwindling enrollment, well, it is almost incomparable to anything else. Maybe Victoria Kintz’s rekindled passion for the beautiful game of Basket Ball was enough for a grizzled coach with a soft heart to carry on a year or two longer than planned.
The pennies by the hour add up to a fill-up or two in the gas tank. Every high school coach knows this. But the change Fa‘asoa has seen in Kintz and all her pupils, in the mind, heart and soul: beyond golden.