SPRINGVILLE — It’s a good thing Malia Nawahine loves to work hard, wants to be a good student and enjoys helping her mom care for her younger siblings.
Because if the Springville senior didn’t have the desire to be a good kid, there might be trouble for all involved.
“She has such a strong will,” said her father Hank Nawahine of the third of his nine children. “She has a strong personality, and sometimes we butt heads. But she’s extremely helpful, very capable. She’s a very good girl, and she exercises good judgment.”
Nawahine’s determination helped her turn what could have been a tough situation — moving from her California home to Utah just before her junior year — into a perfect opportunity.
“We were absolutely worried about (moving her) — partly because she can be so stubborn,” Hank Nawahine said. “If she’d gotten it into her head that this wasn’t going to be good, it wouldn’t have been good. But between the coaches and her teammates, she really felt at home here in Springville, and I can definitely say that’s been part of her success is her ability to integrate into the community and high school.”
In fact, the only time the University of Utah-bound senior got emotional after leading her team to a 4A state championship was when she talked about the teammates who helped her do what only one other team did this season — finish without a loss. Nawahine’s determination and hard work have earned her a state title, a college scholarship, Gatorade Player of the Year honors and now the Deseret News 2013 Ms. Basketball award. It has also earned her the respect of her teammates and coaches.
“She just always strives for the best,” said Springville head coach Nancy Warner. “She’s so competitive and she finds success because of her attitude.”
While her father claims she is a typical loud teenager, Warner said Nawahine is pretty quiet on the court, which is one of the few things the coach sought to change this season.
“We had to kind of get her out of that shell to be that leader that we needed,” said Warner, who asked Nawahine to be one of the team’s captains this season. “We needed her to step out of her comfort zone, to be that coach on the floor, to help her teammates, and she did it. It was something we worked on throughout the season. She took everything to heart — everything I told her — and really matured in that aspect of the game.”
Nawahine averaged 18.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 2.6 assists per game. She was a 40 percent 3-point shooter who had the ability to do just about anything the Red Devils needed her to do. Her team had to beat another undefeated squad, Bonneville, in the 4A semifinals, which is where Nawahine’s leadership and determination shined brightest. Her team won the battle of unbeatens, 50-43, and she led the way with 16 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals.
“She’s such a good all-around player,” said Maple Mountain head coach Cory Green. “Especially on the offensive end, she’s very difficult to box out and she did a really nice job of crashing the boards and getting putbacks. She has a quick first step and attacks the basket really well. As a senior, she improved dramatically as an outside shooter. She’s a very difficult player to stop because she’s so skilled in all facets of the game.”
Nawahine began playing basketball because her older siblings played. It wasn’t until she was asked to play on a freshman team as an eighth grader (as freshman programs are regarded as club sports), that her father thought she might be something special on the court.
“They’d only won six games over three years,” he said of that San Diego team. “They could have two eighth-graders and they took her and her cousin. They moved her to point guard. ... And that year they went undefeated. She’s had two undefeated seasons — that year and this year.”
He watched his daughter inspire those around her to work harder, compete with more intensity and take care of each other.
“I saw elements of that this year,” Nawahine said.
Warner said she’d have a hard time singling out what Nawahine’s greatest strength is athletically.
“I don’t know if you can pinpoint just one athletic strength,” Warner said. “She does everything. She’s so versatile. She can shoot, get to the basket, jump out of the gym, get rebounds — she just overall is a great athlete.”