Toluta‘u continues to soar to new heights
Baldwin grad, fresh off national team debut, leads Seattle in MLR playoffs
Life is moving rapidly for Vili Toluta’u.
The 2012 Baldwin High School graduate will play for the Seattle Seawolves in their semifinal game against the San Diego Legion in the first Major League Rugby playoffs on Saturday in Colorado.
Earlier this month, he graduated from Central Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in construction management. He played in his first match for the USA Eagles last week in a win over Canada in Halifax, Nova Scotia, entering as a second-half substitute.
Sometime soon after the MLR championship match on July 7 in San Diego, Toluta’u will start working for Goodfellow Brothers back home on Maui.
“Everything is going pretty much in order: college to the Seawolves and then also, the USA Eagles,” Toluta’u said via phone on Wednesday. “Yeah, everything is falling into place.”
Toluta’u has represented the USA in France at the world junior championships, he was a six-time All-American at CWU between the regular 15-a-side game and sevens, and was a two-time high school All-American when he played for the Maui Warriors club team.
In his first season as a professional, he had to commute two hours each way from Ellensburg, Wash., where CWU is located, to Seattle for practice three or four times a week and then play games on Saturdays. He shared driving duties with teammate John Hayden, a CWU student who also plays for the Seawolves.
“Me and John had to work it out,” Toluta’u said. “He would drive when I would have to study on the way up there, and then on the way back I would drive and he would study. It was a struggle to finish school. I’m glad we got that out of the way and can finally just concentrate on rugby.”
The one game Toluta’u missed for the Seawolves (6-2) was a June 8 contest in Austin, Texas, because he was set to receive his diploma at CWU on June 9.
Phil Mack, the player-coach for the Seawolves, sees a bright future for Toluta’u, especially when he finds time to play the game full-time.
“As good as Vili has been for us this year, he is just tapping into his true potential as a rugby player,” Mack said in an email. “He has proven what he can do as a part-time athlete, so for me the ceiling for him is where he wants to put it.”
Rugby returned to the Olympics for the first time in 92 years when the seven-a-side game was played in Rio in 2016. It is set to be a medal sport in Tokyo in two years.
Mack said Toluta’u is a candidate to be in Japan wearing “USA” on his chest. Toluta’u was named the MLR Player of the Week after a 41-32 win over Utah on May 20.
“Vili has done extremely well to have been identified and called up by the USA Eagles squad,” Mack said. “I truly believe he will be in that squad moving forward. One of the best things about working with Vili is his humility. He treats everybody with respect and his presence gives players confidence. We are very fortunate to have Vili in our squad.”
Toluta’u’s immediate focus is helping the Seawolves capture the first MLR title.
“Once I got back from Halifax, Canada, I was pretty stoked to get running again with the Seawolves and I just want to finish on a high note in the first inaugural season,” he said. “Just trying to run with the bulls again. Hopefully we get that championship next week.”
Saturday’s semifinals — Seattle and San Diego play at 1 p.m. HST — and the championship will be televised on CBSSN.
Toluta’u is proud to be a pioneer for the Maui youths who look up to him. He remembers following his older brother Samuela Toluta’u to the pitch at Kahului Community Center to play against the likes of Andrew Malafu and Pila Taufa, two Mauians who played professionally in Europe — Vili Toluta’u pegged that trio as his role models.
“I just think back to what I had to go through and hopefully just open up new doors for other athletes on the island as well,” said Tolutau, who routinely wears “808 Maui” on tape around his wrists. “But looking back at those days and up to now, it’s just a blessed opportunity to go through. I’m just making the best of it.”
Tolutau is the first Maui player to make the national team. The Eagles’ next match is in November in Chicago against world power New Zealand All Blacks. The Rugby World Cup next year in Japan is also on his radar screen.
“I was pretty surprised when they announced the team and then they presented the 23 players on the men’s squad, I was pretty stoked for that,” he said. “Then in the game, just watching the boys from the sideline, I was just pumped every second even though I wasn’t on the field yet.
“When they told me to warm up and get ready for this game, I just tried to make an impact on this game. I tried not to be nervous about it, just treat it as any other game. … As soon I stepped on, once I got that first hit, everything was just normal as a regular game.”
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Major League Rugby Playoffs
1 p.m.–Seattle vs. San Diego, CBSSN
3:30 p.m.–Glendale vs. Utah, CBSSN
Saturday, July 7
3 p.m.–Semifinal winners, CBSSN