KAILUA-KONA — Taiana Tolleson is living out her dream at Vanderbilt University. Playing NCAA Division I soccer, the former Konawaena soccer standout saw plenty of action during her sophomore season, getting six starting opportunities in the net during SEC play.
Playing behind red-shirt senior Kaitlyn Fahrner for the past two season, Tolleson went 3-2-1 record during a six-game stretch while Fahrner sat out after injuring her ankle during a drill in practice in mid-September.
All six games came during conference play and the three victories helped Vanderbilt reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998. Tolleson still remembers the moment she found out her Commodores team would make it into the tournament.
“We were all sitting in the sports complex, in the big football room,” Tolleson said. “We were waiting for our name to be called and we were not sure it would be. Then they said we would be playing Ohio State and everyone’s energy just picked up. We knew it was finally our time to prove ourselves.”
Vanderbilt went on to beat the No. 4 seeded Buckeyes 2-1 in the first round but lost to Santa Clara 3-1 in the second round. Tolleson did not see action during the two games with Fahrner back to full health, but it was still a learning experience and a motivator for the young keeper.
“It was awesome to be there,” Tolleson said. “I remember watching Florida State winning as a freshman in high school and I thought it was pretty cool. We worked so hard, so it was worth it just to be there.”
Tolleson received her first start on Sept. 21 against Arkansas. She held the Razorbacks scoreless in a 0-0 draw after finding out she would start the previous day.
“The coach usually posts the starting lineup on the board the day before the game,” Tolleson said. “When I walked into the team room I saw TT in the lineup and, while I was nervous, I was more excited than anything.”
The most memorably moment of that first start for Tolleson was talking to her family before the game.
“We just talked about how I was finally doing something that I have always dreamed of,” Tolleson said. “They just said ‘you are doing it Tai.’”
Tolleson started six straight games between Sept. 21 and Oct. 5. She led the Commodores to three straight victories after that first start, picking up wins against Georgia (2-1), Kentucky (2-0) and Missouri (5-3).
The win against Georgia was particularly memorable thanks to a late goal by freshman forward Rebecca Rossett.
“Earlier in the week, Beccy lost a friend back at home,” Tolleson said. “With about six minutes left in the game she ended of scoring a goal to put us up 2-1. For the last few minutes we just wanted to hold on for her. We had saves made by the defense and by myself. It was such a hard week and for her to score, it was awesome for the team and helped boost our confidence.”
During Tolleson’s sophomore campaign she ended up playing in 10 of the 18 games. She also started two preseason games.
As she heads into her junior year, Tolleson and her Vanderbilt teammates are keeping busy. They just wrapped up an eight-day trip to Japan earlier this month.
“It was unbelievable,” Tolleson said. “We went to Tokyo and Kyoto. We rode bullet trains, boats and even went on a pirate ship. It was a great bonding experience for our team, which is very young with only two seniors.”
The Commodores also played two soccer matches, one against a university program and another against a semi-pro team.
“It was cool to see how Japanese women play soccer,” Tolleson said. “With so many freshmen, sophomores and juniors on the team, it was a good year to do a big international trip. It will help the team bond for the next couple of years.”
On July 4, Tolleson will head to Florida where she is doing a business real estate summer internship. She will then head back to Vanderbilt for preseason play at the end of July.
Tolleson is the first soccer student-athlete from Hawaii to play for Vanderbilt. She has been named to the all-SEC academic honor roll the last two years after choosing the Commodores over Oral Roberts and Eastern Florida.
The Kailua-Kona native was a four-time all-BIIF First Team selection during her time as a Wildcat. She is believed to be the first BIIF goalkeeper to sign an NCAA Division I scholarship.
“Taiana is a natural athlete with a wonderful personality to match,” said Vanderbilt head coach Darren Ambrose through the team’s website. “As a multi sport athlete, as she refines some technical aspects of the position, she could grow into a formidable keeper in our program.”