During the 2016-17 season, sjsuspartans.com will introduce you to the newcomers on the San José State women’s basketball team. Since the team is in Hawai'i for a Thanksgiving tournament, we will get to know a freshman from the island of Maui.
When you see Fa-Ko-Fieme’a Hafoka for the first time, you might be a bit intimidated. Not by the person, but by attempting to pronounce her name. But rest assured it is not as difficult as it may seem...FAH-coe-FEE-aye-meh-ah ha-FOE-kah.
“I’ve shortened it to Fieme’a, but people still mess my name up a lot,” the freshman guard said. “I’m used to it. It’s a hard name to pronounce. When I played in high school tournaments in Honolulu, (public address) announcers messed it up, and I’m Hawaiian! We played at Arizona State a couple of weeks ago and the PA announcer there said my number, hesitated on my name but then got it correct. And our announcer at home (San José State’s Russ Call) says the whole name perfectly. When I heard that I was like…wow!”
Fieme’a hails from the city of Kihei (KEY-hey), population of 20,000, which is situated on the south side of the island of Maui and attended Lahainaluna High School.
Lahainaluna is a powerhouse in girl’s basketball, having competed in its 15th consecutive state championship tournament in 2016, and three of Fieme’a’s former teammates are playing Division I basketball. Two are in their first years at Washington State and the other, Keleah-Aiko Koloi, will be on the court in a University of Hawai’i jersey when the Spartans and Rainbow Wahine face off on Friday.
“We grew up playing together, so this is going to be fun,” Fieme’a said. “I want to go back home and beat her on her home court, but after the game we are friends and teammates. I respect her, but I want to win.”
WE’RE NOT IN MAUI ANYMORE
Despite coming from a successful high school program that develops Division I players, there is a steep learning curve transitioning to college basketball.
“It’s a really big transition, especially from where I come from. Our island is so small and it’s not quite as competitive as other islands. The hardest times for us as a team were when we went to the state tournament. We kind of just ran through our league and when we got to state it got tough. But here it is a whole different level of intensity and competition.
“It’s tough to win at this level, but I already knew coming into a Division I program that it would take everything I have to be successful. I have to be dedicated and continue to work hard to achieve my goals.”
Coming from a city of 20,000 to one of just under 1,000,000 people there are other things to get adjusted to as well.
“I think the biggest differences are the people and the food. Back home people are just more relaxed and happy. They seem a bit nicer, but that is probably because it’s such a small place and everyone knows each other.
“And nothing can beat home cooking. I miss it so much. I really miss laulau. It’s meat wrapped inside taro leaves and steamed, and you eat it with sweet potato. It’s so good. A lot of the local restaurants make it and it’s the first meal I’m going to get when we arrive. ”
FINDING YOUR PLACE
As with many first-year players, Fieme’a is finding out what her role will be in the Spartans up-tempo style of play.
“Right now I just want to fit in where I’m needed,” she said. “I’m more of a defensive player. I get confidence on the defensive side and when I do good things on defense it leads to more offense.
“We (the freshmen) need to continue to learn and get experience. It can be frustrating when you’ve done things all your life and they’ve worked, and now they don’t. At this level, everyone was an all-star in high school. You come here and it’s very tough. Coach keeps telling us to play the role she has laid out for us. Do the right things and be in the right place at the right time.”
Asked what the biggest issue she was dealing with after her first four games as a collegiate player, she answered thinking.
“At this point, I’m thinking when I’m out there and not playing relaxed. I’m concentrating on what I should be doing rather than just playing. The way we run our system, you really can’t do that and help the team.
“It’s a process and it will take some time. I knew coming into college I would have to get better everyday and it wouldn’t be easy. My time will come, but right now I’ll contribute to this team any way I can. It’s a team sport and I’ll do what ever we need to make us successful.
Fieme’a is backing up junior guard Myzhanique (MyMy) Ladd and had been keeping a close eye on her.
“MyMy is so good at the position. I really look at her as a mentor. She helps me so much in understanding the little things and pushes me to work harder. She inspires me a lot. If I see her at practice or in the game working really hard, it inspires me to work harder. When she comes out, I want to keep the flow going. My mind set it to go in and do the right things every time and be the player coach wants me to be and the team needs me to be.”
THE CALIFORNIA CONNECTION
So why would someone leave the paradise of Hawai’i to come to northern California to play college basketball?
“I chose San José State for a couple of reasons. First because I really liked JC (head coach Jamie Craighead) and the vision she set out for us and the program. I liked what she had to say and really liked the school and the weather. Don’t get me wrong, compared to Hawai’i the weather is VERY different, but I was ready to try something new and this situation was the best one for me.
“In high school we pressed a lot and played fast, so the concepts were similar to what we do here. We had set plays for every defense we would see; it was fast, but also pretty rigid. But (at SJSU) we flow more on offense and react to what the defense is trying to do, which I really like. We can quickly switch to an offense that will be successful against the defense we are seeing. We’re not trying to force anything. It’s more of reaction to what we are seeing.
“Secondly, I have family here and in southern California. My aunt and her kids live in San Jose and my sister and my uncle live in San Diego. So although I’m far from home, I’m not far from family.”
WHAT’S ON THE HORIZON
Fieme’a is majoring in psychology, but not to become a psychologist.
“I want to be a dentist after I graduate. I had bad teeth as a little kid. Actually I had fangs and got teased about it. So, I got braces and had to go to the dentist nearly every month. I had a young dentist and she was so nice. I thought I would like to do that one-day. She inspired me to want to help other people.
“So, wanting to be a dentist, my major was going to be biological science, but it was really hard to balance that program and basketball. You really can’t miss any classes and with our travel and practice schedules, it just didn’t seem like it was going to work. I talked to one of my professors and was told I could switch to psychology, take the same classes and in the end go to dental school.”
Fieme’a left Hawai'i to go to college, but will she return after she graduates?
“I’m debating whether I want to go home or not. But if I do go home, I’d like to open my own practice. If not I’ll definitely stay on the West Coast, where it’s warm.
Finally Fieme’a was asked what she was looking forward to this year, which might surprise people…or maybe not when you realize where she grew up.
“I’ve never touched snow. On Maui it snows, but on the top of the mountain and rarely at that. The lowest temperature I’ve ever been in was between 30 and 40 degrees. So I’m pretty stoked to get into the snow. The trips to Colorado State, Wyoming and Air Force will be great!”