We all have potential in us. It doesn't take just one of us to win. It takes all of us. —Skyline's Ta'a Tuinei
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TAYLORSVILLE — This time last year Ta'a Tuinei thought her high school basketball career was over.
Turns out, it may have gotten more difficult, more complicated, but also a lot more rewarding.
In February of 2011, the senior told her coaches that she was pregnant. She transferred to the Young Parent Program to attend school, but thanks to the support of her teammates, coaches, teachers and family, she very quickly realized she didn't have to give up the sport she loved.
And on Wednesday afternoon the mother of four-month-old Tereinga led fourth-ranked Skyline to a 43-33 quarterfinal win over Maple Mountain at Salt Lake Community Center.
"At the time I felt like I had to give up," said Tuinei, who scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the win that gives the Eagles a berth into Friday's semifinal against Timpanogos.
But in the months after that conversation, she began to see a way to work her way back onto the basketball court. She said the support of her mother, coaches and teammates was key.
"They gave me extra workouts to help get me back in shape," said Tuinei. She gave birth to her little boy on Oct. 8 and basketball tryouts were on Nov. 7. She said the start of the season was rough for the team — and for her.
"After (having the baby), things got a lot harder," she said, rattling off the list of things she now juggles just to be able to play basketball. "Just trying to keep up was hard. It was just out of control."
But she managed to find a way, which is why Wednesday was so rewarding.
"I would say (to anyone struggling) that if you really love something, don't give up on it," she said. "Go after it."
In fact, the pregnancy that threatened her ability to play basketball and at times her ability to finish high school and make it to college, gave her the most precious gift.
"My son was my motivation to keep going," she said. "He is my everything, and I want him to know I didn't give up."
Which is exactly the message the Skyline Eagles needed at halftime on Wednesday. They trailed 25-18 and worse than that, they weren't playing well defensively or offensively.
Coach Deb Bennett said she went so far as to demonstrate the proper defensive stance for her players.
"As well as a 58-year-old grandma can get into a defensive stance," she said laughing. After all, it is Skyline's defense that helped them turn a rough preseason into a region title.
"We've held teams to the second lowest number of points in 4A," she said. "Our defense creates our offense."
Tuinei and her teammates took the plea to heart and came out in the second half with energy and focus that helped them hold Maple Mountain to just eight points in the second half of the game.
"Our intensity was so high, I think they kind of gave up on themselves," Tuinei said.
The Maple Mountain defense did an admirable job against Skyline's leading scorer, Miquelle Askew, who scored 35 points on Monday. But it was sophomore Sydnee Taylor, who led the defensive effort with four steals, six rebounds and 11 points, and Tuinei who helped the squad earn that semifinal berth.
"That's good for our team," said Bennett. "Ta'a stepped up big time."
The game she played Wednesday illustrated why Bennett was overjoyed when Tuinei told her she'd be playing this season.2 comments on this story
"She's emerged as a very mature leader," said Bennett. "She's our inspirational role model. We love Ta'a. We couldn't win without Ta'a."
Tuinei believes the Eagles are much stronger because they have learned to play unselfish and in sync.
It would be a mistake for opponents to believe that stopping or slowing Askew is the way to beat the Skyline, Tuinei said. And then she rattles of a number of players who can put points on the board when necessary.
"We all have potential in us," she said. "It doesn't take just one of us to win. It takes all of us."