Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs made his mark on Mount Vernon. Many in town made their mark on him, too. Wirfs and his mother, Sarah, took The Gazette on a tour of his hometown, revisiting scenes around what essentially is the one square mile where he grew up. This story is a little about what can hold you back. This is mostly about what moves you forward.

Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa's Laulauga Tausaga takes aim at NCAA discus title

Hawkeye junior has difficult name, but easygoing personality

Iowa's Laulauga Tausaga, competing in the women's discus at the Drake Relays in April, will be among the favorite in the event at the NCAA Championships on Saturday. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Iowa's Laulauga Tausaga, competing in the women's discus at the Drake Relays in April, will be among the favorite in the event at the NCAA Championships on Saturday. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Her name is Laulauga Tausaga, but you can call in Laugi.

She gets it that you may not pronounce her name(s) correctly. Her “nickname,” by the way, is pronounced “long-ee.”

You’ll want know her name, if you don’t already.

Tausaga is a junior on the University of Iowa women’s track and field team — emphasis on field — and one of the best throwers in the country. She is a four-time All-American and four-time Big Ten champion who owns schools records in the indoor and outdoor shot put, the indoor weight throw and the discus.

The latter event is her passion these days and the one she’ll be competing in Saturday at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Austin, Texas.

Tausaga is one of 13 Hawkeyes competing in 14 events at this weekend’s championships, which kicked off Wednesday.

Tausaga could be the one who brings home a national championship.

Born in Hawaii, she moved to California when she was 7 or 8.

“My mom decided to pack up and leave,” she said in a telephone interview from Austin.

They planned just a visit, but stayed when one of her grandparents became ill.

So Spring Valley, Calif., became her new home. A Samoan, the personable Tausaga remembers her short life in Hawaii.

“I remember going to the beach a lot,” she said. “I remember teachers actually saying my name right.”

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That “saying my name right” has been a battle most of her life. She said “people would call me all kinds of names” — from Lora to Lana to Liliga — all through high school, even when she was winning shot put and discus competitions and college programs started to pay attention.

She finished second in the state shot put as a senior, third as a junior.

“Most of the time it was spelled right (in the paper),” she said, “but it was butchered when I was on TV.”

The fact she was even on TV and getting attention in athletics is another of her wonderful stories. She said she was “very unathletic” and a “homebody” heading into high school. Her mother, Aveaomalo, wanted her daughter to be active and told Laugi she “was getting too tall to not be doing anything.”

“I thought that was rude,” Laugi said.

Aveaomalo dragged a very reluctant Laugi to volleyball practice. She ended up loving it.

She eventually played basketball and it was that coach who suggested she try track.

Tausaga, however, didn’t want anything to do with those running events.

“I asked (the track coach) ‘am I running?’ and he said ‘no.’ I said ‘OK, sign me up,’” she said.

He had her try the shot put and immediately put her on the varsity team.

“It just kind of stuck,” she said.

The shot put actually was her first love. It’s what she excelled at in high school and what grabbed the attention of college recruiters. But when she got to Iowa, she tweaked her technique and struggled her freshman year.

“The discus — something I swore I would hate forever — completely took off,” she said.

She found a new love.

“I was like ‘I have to break up with the shot,’” she said.

She won her first Big Ten discus title as a freshman, placing seventh at the 2017 NCAA outdoor championships. Last year, she was fourth in the shot put and discus at the NCAA meet after winning both at the Big Ten championships. This season, she earned her first indoor All-America honor with a fifth in the weight throw and repeated as Big Ten discus champion outdoors. She set the outdoor shot put (59 feet, 1 1/2 inches) and discus (205-8) records this spring.

“It’s something I’m very passionate about,” Tausaga said about the discus. “I’ve had a rocky season in the shot ... it’s been inconsistent.

“I’m kind of excited to focus on the discus” this weekend.

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She enjoys having fun, but is serious when the competition begins. She said she battles between relaxing and intense focus when she’s on deck, but once she’s in the ring ...

“Everything goes blank and you just kill it,” she said.

That’s the hope on Saturday.

“I’ve been having some really good practices, putting it all together,” she said, “I don’t want to hype myself up too much ... I want to be focused, but ...”

l Comments: (319) 368-8696; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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