Vanderbilt goalkeeper Taiana Tolleson saw a list of more than 50 Division I women’s soccer players currently playing on the mainland and said she was in shock.
“I can’t believe how many more players there are in the 2017, 2018 and ’19 classes compared to when I graduated,” the 2016 Konawaena alumna said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s definitely an honor (to be on the list), and to see it increasing every year is something huge for Hawaii.”
The list gets noticeably shorter when looking at players from the Big Island. Tolleson, who said she was the first goalkeeper from the island to sign with a Division I school, was the only D-I signee for three years.
This year, she is joined by freshmen Saydee Bacdad at Utah Valley and Jordyn Pacheco at Northern Arizona. Both graduated from Hilo in the spring.
It’s an extra special feeling for Tolleson, who had to overcome many obstacles growing up and playing at Konawaena.
The oldest of four siblings with eight younger cousins also running around at some point in her childhood, Tolleson knew from an early age she’d have to be a trailblazer to get the opportunity she has now at a school as prestigious as Vanderbilt.
“(College) was something I thought of a lot sooner knowing that I needed to find resources to get to college, because I knew it was something my family couldn’t do on its own,” Tolleson said. “When you look at the names listed (players from Hawaii in D-I), most of those names aren’t from the Big Island, and knowing how rare it is I think made me work as hard as I did.”
It didn’t necessarily have to be a Division I school, but the desire to play soccer at any college was there from the beginning.
The question became, how does she get there?
That path slowly began to present itself as a freshman at Konawaena, when the Wildcats won the BIIF and played in the state tournament as a four seed.
Tolleson gave up four goals in a quarterfinal loss to Kaiser, but that didn’t come close to evening out with what she gained in that match.
“Shawn Kuroda, who is the founder and one of the head coaches at Surf Soccer Hawaii, went up to my mom on the sidelines and was like, ‘Hey, is your daughter the goalie (for Konawaena)? We would love to have her as our travel (goalkeeper),’ ” Tolleson said. “It’s something that opened a lot of doors for me and something I am so thankful for to this day.”
Tolleson played club with them the rest of her high school career and received offers from Oral Roberts and Vanderbilt as a junior following a showcase in Las Vegas.
Vanderbilt was the desired destination, but there was one problem. She had the grades for it and even the test scores to get into the school, but not to make the soccer team.
The coaching staff at Vanderbilt had a higher requirement to make the team, so it meant Tolleson had to dedicate two months at the end of her senior year to get the test scores she needed.
“I took the SAT five times and the ACT three times,” Tolleson said. “Biting your nails, sitting on the edge of your seat, not getting a good night’s sleep, it was all tough. I had no idea what I was going to do because if it was this hard to get into school and be on the team, how hard would it be to stay in school?”
The days were long and the nights were even longer, but the moment finally arrived. Tolleson got the scores she was looking for and verbally committed to Vanderbilt on the same day.
“I’m pretty sure I was in tears more when I got off the phone (with coach Darren Ambrose),” Tolleson said. “Going from our conversation in April to our conversation in June, between those two months of sacrifices and hard work, to hear that I did it makes me emotional now.
“If I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be at Vanderbilt and my college experience would obviously be so different in a negative way because of how much I love Vanderbilt and these last four years.”
After not playing her freshman season, Tolleson has appeared in 20 matches over the last three years, including twice in the NCAA tournament.
Over the past two seasons, she has split time in goal with another senior, Lauren Demarchi, who came into the program at the same time.
Neither one has been able to beat the other out for the full-time starting job over the last two years, so they split time equally, with Demarchi playing the first half most of the season and Tolleson coming in for the second half.
“Honestly, Lauren and I are each other’s biggest fans,” Tolleson said. “We’re best friends and we want to both see each other play, which you don’t always see. I could have a negative attitude about it and asking ‘Why am I not the only one playing?’
“But it has only made us better and kept things competitive, because it’s when you get comfortable that things start to go downhill.”
Vanderbilt (8-3) is ranked No. 23 in the nation by Top Drawer Soccer. The Commodores next play at Georgia on Friday.
A list of all D-I soccer players on the mainland who graduated from Hawaii high schools:
MEN / SCHOOL / POS / HT / GR / HIGH SCHOOL
Tyler Allen UNLV F 5-9 Sr. Mid-Pacific
Paytin Ayau Utah Valley F 5-10 So. KS-Maui
Chris Espinoza Boston U. D 5-10 So. Punahou
Skyler Goo UNLV F 5-7 Fr. Saint Louis
Alex Liu LMU MF 5-5 So. ‘Iolani
Riley Patterson Seattle U. MF 5-8 Fr. Hilo
Dante Perez Seattle U. GK 6-2 Fr. Baldwin
Laukoa Santos San Diego St. MF 5-10 So. Kealakehe
Jake Schneider San Diego F 5-11 Fr. Hawaii Prep
Sam Wren UNLV D/MF 6-3 Fr. Kapolei
WOMEN / SCHOOL / POS / HT / GR / HIGH SCHOOL
Laulea Akana-Phillips Idaho St. GK 5-9 So. Kamehameha
Lytiana Akinaka BYU F 5-6 So. King Kekaulike
Saydee Bacdad Utah Valley GK 5-7 Fr. Hilo
Chandler Bass Idaho St. D 5-3 So. Mid-Pacific
Rachel Bowler Seattle U. D 5-5 Sr. ‘Iolani
Chai Cortez Oregon D 5-3 So. Maui
Chardonnay Curran Oregon MF 5-4 Jr. Campbell
Chelsie DePonte Stony Brook MF 5-2 Jr. St. Andrew’s Priory
True Dydasco Oregon MF 5-2 Jr. Punahou
Leah Feato Stony Brook F 5-0 Fr. Kamehameha
Aaliyah Fesili Sacramento St. GK 5-11 Jr. Punahou
Sunshine Fontes UCLA F 5-4 Fr. Pearl City
Makamae Gomera-Stevens Washington St. F 5-5 Jr. Kamehameha
Gabrielle Hackbarth Oregon State D 5-6 So. Mililani
Kaile Halvorsen Santa Clara F 5-6 So. Kaiser
Kasey Isobe Portland St. MF 5-5 Sr. Mililani
Kitty Jones-Black Ohio St. D 5-5 Fr. Kamehameha
Kailana Kaeo St. Mary’s (Calif.) MF 5-5 Sr. Mililani
Caela Kaio UC Riverside GK 5-10 Fr. Kamehameha
Tatum Kauka Stony Brook F 5-4 So. Kamehameha
Eden Kawabe Central Florida D 5-3 Jr. Mililani
Kylee Kim-Bustillos Sacramento St. F 5-2 Jr. ‘Iolani
Sidney Kiyabu Long Island U. MF 5-3 So. Mililani
Taylor Kuroda Oregon F 5-3 Sr. ‘Iolani
Skylar Littlefield Sacramento St. MF 5-7 Jr. Baldwin
Ailani Lorenzo Nevada MF 5-3 Jr. Campbell
Karlee Manding South Dakota St. MF 5-2 So. Waipahu
Tamera Mikamura Portland St. MF 5-6 Jr. Aiea
Kylie Minamishin Nevada MF 5-5 So. Kamehameha
Lauren Mukaigawa Seattle U. D/MF 5-5 Fr. Punahou
Shay Nakahira UConn F 5-6 Sr. Punahou
Chay Navares CSU Bakersfield D 5-1 So. Mililani
Nicole Olanda Utah Valley D 5-4 Fr. Aiea
Sara Olanda Nevada MF 5-3 Sr. Aiea
Tiana Ono Long Island U. D 5-4 Jr. Aiea
Jordyn Pacheco Northern Arizona MF 5-3 Fr. Hilo
Shayla Padilla Oral Roberts MF 5-6 Jr. Leilehua
Kailee-Rae Quartero Portland St. F 5-4 Fr. Kamehameha
Brooke Ramos Kansas St. F 5-3 Jr. Kamehameha
Ana Rivera Northern Arizona F 5-3 So. Castle
Mia Rose Daly Long Island U. D 5-6 So. King Kekaulike
Hoku Schatz Idaho F 5-5 Fr. Kahuku
Jamie-Lyn Shimamoto St. Francis-Brooklyn F 5-6 Fr. Punahou
Daysha Solidum Nevada F 5-4 So. Kamehameha
Kendall Stovall Nevada GK 5-7 So. Kamehameha
Taiana Tolleson Vanderbilt GK 6-0 Sr. Konawaena
Shantel Torres-Benito Sacramento St. F 5-5 Jr. ‘Iolani
Hope Tsuneyoshi Gonzaga D 5-6 Sr. Kamehameha
Kekaimalie Woods St. Bonaventure F 5-6 So. Sacred Hearts
Karlin Wurlitzer Idaho St. D 5-10 So. Mililani
Alyssa Yoshida Colorado St. MF 5-3 So. Kapolei
Brynn Yoshinaga Drake F 5-2 So. Punahou
Compiled by Billy Hull, Star-Advertiser