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Queries & Anecdotes W / U.S. U-17 WNT Forward Tani Costa

When the U.S. Under-17 Women’s National Team arrived in Port of Spain, Trinidad, at midnight the night of Sunday, July 13, Tani Costa had been traveling for more than 25 consecutive hours. The Hawaiian forward boarded her first plane on Saturday, July 12 at 10 p.m., and was left to count sheep during her first two sleepless nights in Trinidad. After finally giving in and getting a sleeping pill from the team doctor, a well-rested Costa sat down with to fill fans in on her 22-goal high school soccer season and her English bulldog, J.Lo.

Center Circle: You’re from the state of Hawaii, which historically hasn’t produced too many soccer players, but lately has made a name for itself with Brian Ching and Natasha Kai. How did you even become interested in soccer in the first place?

Tani Costa: “Actually I started playing when I was 4 and I was just a really fat little kid and my dad wanted me to start running around. He has it on film, actually. In my first-ever soccer game, I scored 10 goals in the first half. They had to take me out and then I couldn’t play anymore because, like, I would get my own throw-ins. You know, throw it in and then run and get it myself and I just wouldn’t share.”

CC: You’re a pretty vital part of your high school team, scoring 22 goals last season while missing four games to be with the U.S. U-17 Women’s National Team. How do you balance high school and club soccer with the National Team?

TC: “When I’m there with my high school, I do all I can do. I just put in as much effort as possible and help my team get as far as we can, and when I have to go, they all understand that the National Team is my first priority, I just wish them luck.”

CC: You mention that you like to cook. If you were going to have some teammates over for dinner, what would you make for them and why?

TC: “I would probably make some Spanish rice and some Hawaiian food like white rice, good white rice, some kalua pig, poi and haupia (coconut). My grandma is my next-door neighbor and she’s a cook and I’m always there, every day, helping her cook dinner. I love to cook.”

CC: As a junior, you're committed to Penn State. Why did you choose Penn State over other universities that you looked at?

TC: “I always kind of knew about Penn State because it’s a really prestigious school and everything. I had a lot of offers, actually, but I narrowed it down to my top five and Ohio State and Penn State were in there. Since they’re right next to each other and my dad wanted to see a football game because he loves football and it just kind of worked out. I took my two unofficial college visits to Penn State and Ohio State and I was just comparing the two and Penn State was just so much better. I love [head coach] Erica Walsh and the girls there are really nice. The campus and the people there are really nice. I got to meet everyone and the support is really good there.

CC: We heard you met Joe Paterno. How was that?

TC: “It was great. I love Joe Paterno. He was so nice! My dad was just crazy because we met the whole football team. [Paterno] was really nice. We went onto the practice field when they were practicing. He stopped practice and brought the whole team over and they were giant, big guys and I was just like, ‘Oh!’ I didn’t even expect it. I didn’t know what to say. He was really nice.”

CC: How does your family feel about you going, not only to the mainland, but all the way across the country, for college?

TC: “On one had, they’re super happy for me and they’re really supportive and happy that I’m going to a good school and getting a good education and playing some good soccer. But, on the other hand, they’re really sad that I’m going so far. They really wanted me to go to a West Coast school where they could fly more often and come in to see me. But they’re not going to be able to see me for a while. They might come to see me maybe for my first game or something but, it’s sad. I’m sad, too, because I won’t be able to see them at my games, well, at every one of my games.”

CC: Hawaii to Penn State is a long flight. You probably have the hardest time out of all your teammates traveling to National Team camps. What’s that like?

TC: “At first, when I first started with the National Team and we had camps in Florida and New Jersey, it was really hard for me with the different times zones and I hardly got to sleep. But then, after about a year, I started getting used to it. After the first day of not sleeping, I’ll be okay. Then, I don’t know, this trip was so different. My first flight was Saturday [July 12] at 10 at night and then we got here [Monday, July 14 at 12 a.m.] and I was flying over 24 hours. So the past two days, I didn’t sleep at all. The other night I was just counting sheep. I swear, I counted about 100 sheep. I looked at the clock and it was like 7:30 in the morning. I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh!’ But, last night I slept with some help from the doc and it was good.”

CC: Tell us a little bit about your English Bulldog, starting with, why did you name her J.Lo?

TC: “J.Lo! I love J.Lo. Well, I got her Christmas day of ’05 or ’04 or something like that. She was a little puppy and she had a really little, short tail. She would be so happy to see me every time I came home and she would try to shake her tail but she would shake her whole butt. I really liked J.Lo back then and she was kind of known for her backside so I named her J.Lo.”

CC: Considering that your favorite super heroes are The Incredibles, if you could have any super power, which power would you choose and why?

TC: “This is so hard because if you could fly, that would be really fun. Being invisible would be pretty sly, too. I would have to say a super power of time travel. That would be a really good one because you could always go back in time. If something was really good, you could always do it again, like if you have a really good burger or something, or, like, mistakes. That would be cool. Time travel. That would be awesome.”

CC: Can you speak Hawaiian?

TC: “I can’t speak it fluently, but I know some words. Like girl is wahine (WAH – hee – nay), boy is kane (KAH – nay), kuuipo (koo – EE – po) is sweetheart. My dad calls me hoku (HO-koo) because it means star and he’s like, ‘You’re my hoku.’

CC: You said your favorite player is Natasha Kai. Have you met her?

TC: “I haven’t really sat down to talk to her or anything, but I’ve seen her and I’ve seen her play. In the past, she played club ball for this one coach, coach “Bud” [Michele Nagamine], and I just moved teams to Leahi, to play for her, so that’s super cool. She gave me Natasha’s number and I was texting her while she was training for the National Team. We’re always away at different times so, when we are both there we’re supposed to get together to do some shooting or something. That would be really fun.

CC: What advice would you ask her for?

TC: “I think I would just want to know her favorite moves and really cool jukes and stuff like that. She’s so fast. I’m going to race her to see how I do!”

CC: This is the first-ever qualifying tournament at this age level for women, because it’s the first time that there will be a FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. How does it feel to be part of something so historic?

TC: “Oh my god. I don’t even know what to say. I’m so honored. I’m excited. I want it more than anything. I get so nervous whenever I think about it. I want to win so bad. I can feel it, deep down inside me, I’ll do anything to win. I want to be the best. I know we are. I know we can do it. I know that it’s hard work. Nothing is a given.”

CC: Obviously, you want to win. Along with that, what are your goals for this tournament, both personally and for the U.S. U-17 Women’s National Team?

TC: “Personally, I would like to, of course, score every game. That would be amazing. But, I want to work on being more intelligent during the game and staying focused throughout the whole thing. I just want to try and continually contribute and not fall off. You know, sometimes you see some players not interacting enough throughout the game. I want to be in it throughout the game, every game. Hopefully it will come. Scoring will come. I don’t have to try and force it. I want to play as a team and combine, and then get a goal because that’s always the most beautiful goal – a nice combo and boom.

For the team, I know we know all of our strengths. We play so well together. I’m closer to all the girls here than at home on my club team because we all have the same goals, we all are so determined. I think that if we stay in tune and on the same page and keep supporting each other, I just want us to flourish and go to all of our potential and win."

CC: If you could meet any three people in the world, other than Natasha Kai, because we already talked about her, who would you meet and why?

TC: “I’ve already met David Beckham, so I can’t say him. He’s so good looking and he’s amazing. I’d probably want to meet Ronaldinho because he’s just amazing; the best player ever. I want to meet the president. I want to meet our next president. I don’t know, I think it might be [Barack] Obama. He’s from Hawaii. That would be pretty cool. And Ronaldo. Yes. Definitely Cristiano Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, those two. I could get some good moves from them. That would be super cool. There are so many people but I think those would be the most influential, other than actors but they’re just good looking.”