Prep volleyball: West rallies around senior leader

Prep volleyball • Fauga ended up in a coma because of complications from diabetes.
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It wasn't a typical practice.

Instead of the familiar sounds of volleyballs being passed, set and struck at West High's gym, coach Mindy Wilder held practice at Primary Children's Medical Center to foreign sounds of medical equipment and overhead pages. One of the team's own lay in intensive care covered in tubes and IVs.

Diabetic ketoacidosis, a potentially life-threatening complication from diabetes, overtook Lumana'i Fauga's strong body and forced her into a coma.

Thirty of her teammates overtook the waiting room and visited her two at a time with cards and balloons. She was conscious but too sick to leave. Mismanagement of her medication put her life at risk, so her teammates visited to extend the support she provides them in their lives on and off the court.

"To see the whole team visit me felt like they were family," Fauga said. "My girls got my back. … My coaches care about me."

She's emotional when she talks about her four-day experience. Since leaving the hospital two weeks ago, Fauga has refocused her life back on volleyball. It is the thread that ties everything together — school, sport, family and community. As an outspoken leader who takes pride in her Polynesian roots and ownership of her teammates, she's using her second chance to take care of those who took care of her.

"I get their struggles. I know how hard it is to be successful," Fauga said. "They come to me for everything."

West's season has been a roller coaster of success and disappointments. The Panthers defeated crosstown rival East during the preseason, but regional play has been disappointing.

West has dropped close matches, but the team's intensity never has diminished. The Panthers' sidelines are deafening in cheers and chants throughout each game.

"It's our pride — pride in our school, pride in our team," Fauga said. "We cheer for each other because we're a family and you always look out for your sisters."

Wilder recognizes how far Fauga has come in her personal life and on the court. Her work ethic and attitude are an example for other players. Wilder expects her junior class of Ritsie Armington, Nina Skipps, Cait Imhoff and Lupe Pulu to fill the graduating senior's role.

"She is the quarterback on the team," Wilder said about Fauga. "She takes charge and encourages everyone to play her best."

Fauga's body still aches as she takes the court to lead the Panthers, but every day is getting better. She is getting stronger, managing her health and looking forward to playing volleyball at the next level. It's about finishing the season strong and looking after her teammates.

"I'm all about trying to make someone else look good," Fauga said. "I'm all about team and looking after my girls." —

Fagua stats

Lumana'i Fauga is looking to play at SUU next year.

West High has a 3-8 record overall and 1-6 in region this season.