This feature was originally published in the Gameday Program for the home football game on Nov. 22, 2014.
Growing up in Southern California, her dream play might be modeled after her favorite MLB player Chone Figgins--a hard line drive hit to her left and her snagging it out of the air from the infield.
But the dream of junior softball player Coryn “Coco” Tauali’i is fueled by something fostered by her upbringing–her competitive spirit and love for the game.
“We couldn’t even play board games at my house.” Tauali’i said. “It would just turn into a fight every time.”
Coco’s father, Kevin Tauali’i, echoed the sentiment stating what kind of competitor Coco is in the family.
“There isn't anything that happens without any sort of competition that goes on. Coco ranks right up there at the top...She has a competitive spirit about her.”
Tauali’i grew up in an athletic family. She is the third in her family to play at the intercollegiate Division I level and the third out of four children, all daughters.
The oldest, Amanda, played softball for Hawai’i from 2007-2010 and the next oldest, Brooke, played volleyball for BYU from 2007-2010. The youngest, Daylene, is in high school and plays basketball.
Coco not only competed with her sisters, but also received her nickname from them.
“When I was younger I had really, really, really brown eyes--really big brown eyes--you couldn’t even see the whites of my eyes,” she said. “My two older sisters have blue eyes. They thought my eyes looked like Coco Puffs, so they just started calling me Coco.”
In that kind of family, Coco’s competitive spirit blossomed naturally. She would watch her sisters’ softball games (Brooke played softball as well growing up). Her mother Gina played softball on a travel ball team that played in Australia. But ultimately her father influenced her affinity for softball.
“I'm a daddy's girl 100 percent,” Coco said. “My dad played softball and I was always at his slow-pitch games and I would always just hang out with all his buddies in the dugout.”
Coco has a unique relationship with her father. Kevin, a police officer, doesn’t put one child above the other, but he remembers spending time with Coco as a baby when Gina was going back to work.
“I was working graveyards and I had to stay home with Coco,” Kevin said.
He added that she impressed some of his friends with her athletic abilities from a young age.
“I had her with me all the time...She’d make these spectacular catches.”
When it came time for Coco’s college recruitment, she explored a few different options.
“When I was first getting recruited and I just started 18-Gold(travel ball),” Tauali’i said. “I remember my mom telling me, 'Okay, you gotta put a list together of all of your top teams, your top 10 teams.'”
Initially, she didn’t want to choose BYU.
“I was looking through this book of all the division I softball teams, and I was flipping through and saw BYU and I was like, ‘There is no way I’m going to BYU.’ I wanted to follow in my sister’s footsteps, but at the same time, I wanted to create my own story.”
BYU head coach Gordon Eakin had recruited Coco’s sister Amanda and didn’t want to miss out on another Tauali’i.
“Coco was just a natural fit for here, both talent-wise and character-wise and we weren't going to let her get away,” Eakin said.
BYU’s recruiting connection actually began because of Coco’s sister Brooke.
“My sister was at BYU and was roommates with Jessica Purcell-Fitu, the catcher,” Coco said. “Jess Fitu started talking to (Ianeta Le'i) and so she started recruiting me.”
The Cougars were having a good season that year and she thought BYU might be a possibility. Tauali’i eventually went on an unofficial visit to Provo and was won over.
“I fell in love,” she said. “I loved the atmosphere. I loved the people here. I loved Coach Eakin. And you can’t get much better facilities than the ones at BYU. There are only a few schools that can compare to this.”
Tauali’i’s playing career hasn’t been without its challenges.
“She has had a very unique experience in travel ball,” her father said. “She played with the best girls in her age group. With that team she played on, they were national champions twice and runner-up once. Those girls went on to play at Michigan, UCLA, Oregon, Stanford.”
During her club days is when she learned to play other positions. Though her first choice is shortstop, Coco has seen time at BYU in the outfield and infield.
“I think it taught Coco a bit of humility. She learned to accept playing a different position,” he said.
The team already had someone who was a successful shortstop and Coco eventually became best friends with her.
“She learned humility and how to make it work,” Kevin said. “It's kind of the same lessons we learn in life in general. We're not always able to play on the A team.”
Tauali’i’s challenges haven’t disappeared since coming to BYU, she’s only getting stronger because of them.
“Last year I went through a pretty tough season altogether,” Coco said. “Things weren't clicking when I was hitting. Things weren't going my way. My mental toughness just broke down midseason and I just went downhill.”
This season her outlook is a little different.
“I came in last year thinking ‘confidence is key, confidence is key.’ Just go up there with confidence and you’re going to succeed, you’re going to have a quality at-bat,” she recalled. “My motto this year is control the controllables. Don’t worry about what else is going on. Don’t worry about everybody else. Don’t worry about what the coaches’ decisions are, just worry about yourself.”
The ever-present challenge of tuning out the outside influences is always a necessary task for athletes, especially in a sport which good hitting can be defined around a 30 percent success rate or a batting average of .300 or .350.
“There are some things that are out of your control,” Coco’s father said. “What the coach does, what the players do, plus all the intangibles--but you do control your approach to your at-bat, to the game, how your prepare yourself mentally and physically.”
With Coco’s familial support and competitive drive, she looks to have a breakout season in 2015.
“I just want to work on being on base as much as I possibly can,” Tauali’i said. “Decrease the strikeouts and just put the ball in play and let the defense make it happen.”
A successful season for her is to contribute to the team getting back to regionals and hopefully on to super regionals.
“She is extremely talented and a player who is really just starting to come into her own,” coach Eakin said. “We expect big things from her. Athletic, power at the plate, understands the game–her bright future is in front of her.”
As she prepares for the season, Tauali’i looks to the advice of her biggest fan, her father.
“He always tells me, ‘If you work hard, good things will happen.’ I’ve always taken that to heart and I’ve always tried to work my hardest at everything I do.”