Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — There better be seaweed and Spam handy when University of Iowa sophomore Laulauga Tausaga celebrates holidays or victories in a throws ring.
A frequent custom when Tausaga was 7-years-old in Hawaii was to pop into 7-Eleven and grab musubi, a tasty delicacy made of rice, seaweed, and Spam. When she moved to Spring Valley, California, Tausaga quickly realized she was no longer on the island. No convenience store in the area stocked musubi.
“My heart was broken when I couldn’t find it,” she said.
Gold medals, Big Ten championships, and All-America honors aren’t the only things Tausaga has intorduced to Iowa City. When former Iowa throws coach Andrew Dubs announced “Throwsgiving,” a late November social gathering for the Hawkeyes’ throws unit, Tausaga’s potluck contribution was the childhood favorite.
“I had Spam, I had seaweed, and I had rice,” Tausaga said. “I put it together and everybody called them Spam bars.”
Soon, teammates were asking for the recipe.
Throwers across the country would be wise to pay attention to Tausaga’s recipe for success. She already holds school records in the indoor shot put (54-feet, 2-inches), weight throw (65-8 ¾), outdoor shot put (53-6 ¼), and discus (196-4) midway through her second outdoor season. She won the Big Ten Conference discus title as a freshman and became a first-team All-American by placing seventh in the discus at the NCAA Championships on June 10, 2017, in Eugene, Oregon.
“The philosophy I go by is, there is always going to be someone better than you,” Tausaga said. “Celebrate the victories you do have, but understand that right after that, we have to go back to work. You have the highs, then you have to go back to fixing the lows.
“There are girls who have more talent than you or work much harder than you, so they produce higher marks. You need to understand that you have to count the small victories and make sure you are building for the next one.”
Tausaga was a three-sport athlete at Mount Miguel High School in LaPresa, California. Technically, she played four sports if you add her senior season of water polo, an activity she said she would “never be coming back to.”
“It was a great experience to try something new, but thank God I only had one more year of high school,” Tausaga said.
Not a fan of running, Tausaga originally balked — twice actually — when a basketball coach suggested she try track and field. The track part didn’t pan out, but she thrived in the field.
“There was minimal running, you could eat whatever you wanted, there was no weigh-in to be a certain weight,” Tausaga said. “There was a little weight room, but nothing major.”
And as a freshman in high school, she reached 40 feet in the shot put.
“I was like, ‘Maybe I can get used to this,'” Tausaga said.
Her efforts consistently improved. As a sophomore in 2014, Tausaga was 13th in the shot put at the California Interscholastic Federation State Championships. As a junior in 2015, she was third, one spot behind current Hawkeye teammate Nia Britt. As a senior in 2016, Tausauga was runner-up.
One of the reasons Iowa first reached out to Tausauga in the recruiting process was because of the connection between her and Britt.
“She was my rival, one of the people I wanted to beat, but it didn’t happen (in high school),” Tausauga said. “Now we’re best of friends.”
Partly because the Iowa track and field coaches wouldn’t take no, no, or no for an answer.
“I came on the visit and it was amazing,” Tausaga said. “I went home and the next week I told my mom I wanted to commit to the University of Iowa. She was like, really? Are you OK with being that far away from home? I said I feel at home there, I like the people, I like the coach. I said I’m going to go.”
Tausauga continued to perform well after a flawless transition when Eric Werskey replaced Dubs as throws coach in August 2017. In Tausauga, Werskey saw a physical specimen who was committed to moving forward.
“Lagi is very gifted and I believe she can contend for a national title,” Werskey said. “We have remained very consistent; even on our off days it is still better than a lot of other people in the country. That sets her up for a positive postseason. We just have to get through the rounds. Once we get on the day I trust she will do very well.”
Heading into the Drake Relays on April 26-28, Tausauga is ranked first in the Big Ten in discus, fourth in shot put, and 15th in hammer throw.
“I want to get over 60 meters in the discus; make sure I can contend for the top spot in the country,” Tausaga said. “I want to make sure I’m able to make a final at the national meet and see if I can produce the same things I have at outdoor Big Ten — get another title, help get team points.”
Life as a Hawkeye is going well for Tausaga, aside from the occasional — OK, frequent — mispronunciation of her name. She has been called everything from Lora, Lana, Layna, Liliga, and Luluga.
“It’s simple. It rhymes, you can’t go wrong,” Tausaga said. “My mom gave me a nickname, but people couldn’t even say Lagi, so it became Lani, which I detest.”
Phonetically, her Samoan nickname, Lagi, is pronounced Long-ee.
“Sounds like there is an N in it, but there isn’t,” she said.
It is easier to refer to her by monikers such as school record-holder, Big Ten champion, or All-American. And she is carrying on more than Iowa’s strong tradition in the throwing events. In fact, Tausaga wouldn’t let Werskey discontinue Throwsgiving last November.
“Just because the coach left doesn’t mean the legend can’t go on,” Tausaga said.
Did she rely on her go-to dish of musubi as a sophomore?
“I made mashed potatoes this time,” she said.
The seaweed and Spam is being saved for a postseason victory party.