Mind over matter: Hilo grad Moke-Rabang driven not to let injury slow her down

  • West Hawaii file photo Despite what this photo from her sophomore season in a match at Hawaii Prep shows, Hilo High’s Nanea Moke-Rabang usually kept her eyes peeled during her BIIF career with the Vikings. She’s signed to play at the College of Southern Nevada.

It’s one of the worst sounds an athlete can hear.

Hilo High’s Nanea Moke-Rabang had executed the play numerous times since taking up soccer at age 4. She was running on to a ball in mid-December at Konawaena when she stepped, turned and … crack.

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She tore everything in her left knee. ACL, MCL the works.

“As soon as I went down, it crushed me,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to be there for (my team) later in the season.”

Moke-Rabang’s potentially prolific senior campaign, one in which she was supposed to help carry the rebuilding Vikings along with Booboo Corpuz, was pau. But she was determined not to let the setback derail her soccer career.

“It made me look at other things differently,” she said. “It made me push harder, it made me want it more, to finish strong and be able to play in college.”

Still, there was also the bigger picture to worry about, and it’s one of the worst fears for an aspiring college athlete: Will a coach pull my scholarship offer because of an injury?

College of Southern Nevada coach Geoff Hawkins had watched Moke-Rabang play at a UNLV camp and liked her game, but he’d never seen her play on one leg.

The honest approach worked for Moke-Rabang. She described all the details to Hawkins, who not only told her not to worry, but he also gave her a choice. She could follow Hawkins to Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nevada, or stick with the College of Southern Nevada.

Two weeks after suffering her injury, on New Year’s Eve, she signed with CSN in Las Vegas. Her brother, former Kamehameha midfielder Ric Moke-Rabang, lives in the area, but that was just one off the boxes she checked off.

“I connected with the team, I liked the girls, the staff was super nice and I really liked the campus,” said Moke-Rabang, who plans to study business and criminology at the two-year school. She hopes to transfer to a four-year school in the state with an eye on eventually going to law school.

She’ll likely resume her role at forward for the Coyotes, who are now coached by Jocelyn Roach.

“My first conversation with Nanea couldn’t have gone better,” Roach said in release earlier this month that announced a signing class of 11. “Nanea will be a strong offensive player for us.”

Despite playing in only six matches in 2019-20, Moke-Rabang was selected all-BIIF Division I for the first time, scoring 10 goals with four assists. Last month, she graduated summa cum laude, capping an eventful high school run.

After playing her freshman season at Waiakea, she transferred to Hilo under Skee Saplan, who also coaches her with his club team, the Chicas. She chipped in with three goals and two assists in helping the Vikings win their third consecutive BIIF title. She was an honorable mention all-BIIF as a junior, garnering two goals and six assists, on another loaded Vikings team.

Moke-Rabang had her knee surgery at the end of January, and though rehabbing during a pandemic-induced shutdown isn’t preferable, these days she running longer distances and is beginning to sprint, all the while holding the mindset of “don’t get discouraged, just keeping moving forward. You never know what the future holds.”

Though her senior season was cut short, it’s clear that her being named Hilo’s most inspiration’s player wasn’t just a consolation prize.

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“I’m happy that I went through everything I went through,” she said, “because it helped me become a better person, and it helped me have a driven mind-set that I can push through everything that comes my way.”

That’s one of the best attitudes a coach can hear.

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