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A Standout in Two Languages : Girls' basketball: Spurred on in Samoan and in English, Sal Tauau has given Channel Islands strength at center.

February 01, 1990|KIRBY LEE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Se oso i luga," shouts Feti Tauau to her daughter, Sal, during a Channel Islands High girls' basketball game against Santa Clara.

"Alu i lalo le mama. Taumafai e alu i le emea o iai le polo," she continues.

No player on the court reacts except for Tauau. No one else on the court can understand the directions either--they're in Samoan.

Translation: Jump up. Go rebound. Play hard and strong.

"My mom says she's my second coach," Tauau, 17, says. "I can always pick out two voices from the crowd--my mom's or when (Channel Islands Coach) Ryle (Lynch-Cole) shouts something.

"When I come home from games, she'll tell me what I need to do to improve. Or if she can't go to a game because of work, she'll always wish me good luck that morning."

It wasn't always that way.

Tauau's mother, who played a form of basketball in Samoa where no dribbling was allowed, was at first reluctant to let Tauau play.

Tauau, which rhymes with pow-wow, finally was given permission on the condition that she maintain a grade-point average better than 3.0.

Thus far, she has kept her end of the bargain, compiling a 3.6 average in college preparatory classes.

Although only a junior, Tauau, who is trying to become the first in her family to go to college, is being recruited by numerous four-year schools, including USC, UCLA, Washington State, Ohio State and Hawaii.

"We've had several players receive academic scholarships," Lynch-Cole says, "but Sal will be the first one in a while to receive an athletic one."

Primarily looked upon as a scorer and a rebounder in her freshman and sophomore seasons, Tauau has added the passing game to her repertoire.

Entering the week, Tauau, a 6-foot center, was averaging 14.2 points and 12.5 rebounds, along with 4.1 assists.

"You usually expect a guard, not a center, to be averaging that many assists," Lynch-Cole says. "Other teams started to double-team and even triple-team her towards the end of last year. It was frustrating for her because other teams were always keying on her. But this season she has learned to read the defense and pass off and go outside or inside when necessary."

It's been mostly inside, to 5-11 forward Candace Carper, who is averaging 16.2 points a game.

"Sal has picked up the adjustment quickly and has responded well," Carper says. "It has really opened things up for me. Ryle said that pretty soon they would start double-teaming me and Sal would be open. He said it would keep on going back and forth."

Westlake Coach Nancy Bowman seems to agree. Channel Islands handed Westlake, then ranked first in the Southern Section 4-AA Division, its first loss in Marmonte League play in a game in which Tauau had 26 points, 19 rebounds, five blocked shots and four steals.

"You've got a double threat out there with Tauau and Candace Carper," Bowman says. "If you take one out, you have the other to worry about."

And the two work well together. Tauau missed two games because of church functions, and with the center out, Carper averaged only 11.5 points.

"I told Sal over the summer what she needed to do," Lynch-Cole says. "She didn't complain. All she wanted to know was if it would help us win."

It has.

Going into the week, Channel Islands, seeking its first league title since 1974, was 8-1 in Marmonte League play and 19-5 overall.

The third of four daughters, Sal--actually a nickname for Seuga (Say-oohn-gah) Maryland Tauau--was born in Washington, D.C. Sala, 21, was born is Seattle and Nancy, 20, who also played basketball at Channel Islands, was born in American Samoa. The youngest sister, May, 14, was born in Philadelphia.

"We lived in Maryland," Feti says, "but the hospital where Sal was born was actually in Washington, D.C. I liked the state of Maryland. It's a nice place so we gave her that name."

Tauau's family moved frequently when she was a child, trying to find a climate that was mild enough for her father, Sini, who has asthma. They settled in Oxnard in 1976.

Seuga became known as Sal when Lynch-Cole, who coached Tauau in a parks and recreation league in the fifth grade, had difficulty pronouncing her name and asked if there was something easier he could call her.

"I just told him to call me Sal," Tauau says. "Everybody calls me by that now, even my parents. When somebody calls me by Seuga, I don't even respond to it now. I'm so used to Sal."

Tauau began playing basketball in the third grade on the boys' team because there wasn't a girls' team. She even played center on the boys' team in eighth grade.

"Right now, she likes to play with the varsity boys' team," Lynch-Cole says. "She's not afraid to bang out there, but she knows how to take care of herself. Playing with the boys has made her a versatile player.

"She can play any position for us. She handles the ball well and brings up the ball during a press. She can shoot from the outside and play inside as well."

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