AOY Rewind: Toeaina continues to make an impact
With her husband, the former Baldwin standout runs a foundation for youths through their Calif. church
Nicole Toeaina, nee Garbin, is in the discussion for the best female athlete ever from the Maui Interscholastic League.
Two decades after being named The Maui News MIL Girl Athlete of the Year for Baldwin High School, nearly 15 years after being named the Pac-10 Conference Soccer Player of the Year, and three years after entering the University of Oregon Hall of Fame, Toeaina is now a standout in many other ways.
With husband Matt Toeaina, a standout defensive lineman at Oregon who played six seasons for the Chicago Bears, the mother of five runs a foundation through their church in Brentwood, Calif., that offers free workouts and life lessons for youths in the area.
The Alexander Mataifale Toeaina Foundation is named after Matt Toeaina’s uncle, who is the pastor of the Soul’d Out Christian Center church. All of the activities of the foundation are free of charge.
“The foundation is kind of a separate entity of the church that we attend and we also kind of help run,” Nicole Toeaina said via phone on Wednesday. “The foundation basically is catering to the youth. We offer a workout program that usually takes place every summer, but because of the pandemic basically there wasn’t any regular school any more, so we decided to offer this outlet to come out every day and work out — we were able to work them out for 100 days straight.”
It was an outlet that the local youths needed during the isolation mandates amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We realized the kids needed that socialization, so this was one of those outlets where we were also breaking them out, getting them around other kids, getting them active because when you’re isolated you’re pretty much just sitting around,” Toeaina said. “We were getting the kids active, getting them outside because they need fresh air. They need sunlight, vitamin D, natural vitamin D from the sun to keep them healthy.”
After the summer workouts, they celebrated with a banquet to honor the standouts of the program. The workouts drew about 50 kids daily.
The Toeainas also paid for the kids in the program to take a trip to American River, where they floated down the river during a day of bonding.
“It’s been such great feedback from them, the student-athletes, that they want more of that,” Nicole Toeaina said. “They’re looking forward to the next time to bond with other people their age. It’s just a positive thing in the community here.”
The foundation reaches far past the athletic realm.
“We have a tutoring program, basically in our church, where we help keep our students and our student-athletes accountable in their schools, to their teachers,” she said. “We want to just keep up with them, continue to meet with them every Friday — basically just a mentoring program.”
Toeaina led Baldwin to state soccer titles in 2000 and 2001, and two state final fours in basketball. Coaches Kawika Keator (soccer) and Angel Kalehuawehe (basketball) both said she was the best they ever coached during their long careers.
“She was always a hard worker, always,” said Keator, the BHS soccer coach from 1999 to 2012. “I watched her play when she was little and she was awesome when she was little. … I don’t think I ever had a better athlete play for me. She was just, I mean, special.”
Tia Medeiros is a former Baldwin girls soccer coach who played with Toeaina in high school before going on to a career at the University of Hawaii.
Medeiros and Toeaina are close friends now, but in high school they pushed each other to the brink of fisticuffs, especially in practice.
“Back in high school, we could win 10-0, we could win 15-0 and we would still — especially me and Nicole — would still not be satisfied, I guess, with the performance.” Medeiros recalled. “I wouldn’t really say mad, but not satisfied with how we played. Both me and her would always want our team to play better.”
Toeaina’s soccer career at Oregon was stretched to six years due to torn anterior cruciate ligaments in each knee that cost her complete seasons each time. When it was over, she left Eugene with school records in nearly every significant scoring category.
She also played basketball for the Ducks after finishing her soccer career.
She played for the Seattle Sounders developmental women’s team during summers to prep for Oregon seasons in 2005 and 2006, and after finishing, she played for the semi-professional Pali Blues in Los Angeles.
After finishing her playing career for the Ducks soccer team, Toeaina stayed with the program as a volunteer assistant coach while working on her master’s degree with an eye toward a new women’s professional league that was set to start in 2009.
Matt Toeaina’s fledgling NFL career and motherhood eventually took precedence over a pro soccer career for Nicole. Matt Toeaina has taken on the role of stay-at-home dad to the couple’s children — daughters Nella, 11, Mia, 9, Nova, 4, and Makena, 3, sandwich the only boy, Micah, 6.
That has allowed Nicole to help run the administration for the church. She is also a substitute teacher in the Brentwood school district, works with Impact Soccer Club and is an assistant girls soccer coach for Liberty High School.
Her daughter Mia, named after Mia Hamm, is on the team Nicole coaches for Impact Soccer. Her children know how good their mother was back in the day.
“I think they learn something all the time,” Toeaina said. “Because when I meet people and parents, they do their research on me. (The Toeaina kids) overhear them, so, yeah, they get it. They’re like, ‘Wow,’ you know. My husband will put up videos of me and then of my celebrations. … My kids just laugh and then they try to imitate me. All the parents on their teams, they just crack up.”
Toeaina has plans to run a free soccer clinic annually on Maui in the near future — much like fellow Baldwin class of 2001 schoolmate Kurt Suzuki does for baseball — after clearing the tough permit process now in place for activities due to the pandemic.
“I plan on holding that, my own soccer clinic every summer,” she said. “It’s not easy right now, but we will get it done.”
That will be a valuable thing for the Maui community.
“No doubt, she’s a motivator,” Medeiros said. “I think she’s found a place for herself, especially with her five kids, it gives her an opportunity to not only impact her kids, but her church community and just the athletic community around her.
“If you ever had a chance to hear her talk to these kids, she does a really good job of not only instilling athletic or sports values and all that, it’s about life. How you handle yourself in your sport should be how you handle yourself in life — no quitting, trying to be the best in everything you do.”
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com