Mohala Kalauli always had a passion for soccer and fashion, but the 2021 Ke Kula ‘O Nawahiokalani’opu’u graduate, who played ball at Hilo High, never thought she would find a college to pursue both until Lynn University contacted her.
In the new age of technology, athletes put their profiles online, and coaches recruit them, even during the coronavirus pandemic.
When Kalauli discovered Lynn, a Division II school in Boca Raton, Fla., offered both of her passions, it was an easy choice to move 4,733 miles to become a Fighting Knight.
“When I first visited the campus, I loved how the campus is. The people are super nice, and they had fashion and soccer,” she said. “Coach (John) Markey actually reached out to me. I didn’t even know Lynn was a school. I think the online recruiting worked more this year because they couldn’t watch us play. Multiple coaches reached out to me.”
She flew to Florida in August when soccer practice started and moved into the dorms. The Fighting Knights have already played two preseason games with their season opener on Sept. 3 at Nova Southeastern at Fort Lauderdale.
Their first game was against Florida International at Miami, and the next was against Florida Gulf Coast in Fort Myers. If those places sound like attractive tourist destinations, they are. After all, Lynn plays in the Sunshine State Conference and was picked to finish sixth in the 11-team conference. The Fighting Knights went 7-8-3 overall in 2019.
“Florida is very hot and humid. I got used to it. I’ll get sunburn every so often,” Kalauli said. “I like the weather here. It’s like Hawaii. It’s not a big thing for me, as long as it’s not snowing.
“When we visited the other schools and campuses, I was like, ‘Wow.’ It’s so beautiful. I was surprised to see tennis courts lining up the campus.”
One of the biggest things she noticed was the step-up in competition. Around the BIIF, there are a lot of small players. As a 5 feet 9 defender, Kalauli was usually one of the tallest players. At Lynn, she has teammates who are 6-1, 6-0, and 5-10.
Lynn is a private university and has an endowment of over $21 million, so the Fighting Knights recruit from around the world. There are players from New Zealand, Finland, Greece, Norway, New Jersey, Missouri, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. Kalauli’s competition for a starting job comes in different sizes and from all over the globe.
“I’m not starting, but I’m working my butt off so hopefully, I do get to start,” she said. “We have players from Finland and New Zealand. That blew me away. The coach chose me. I’m here for a reason. The school is so diverse. I’m meeting so many people every day.
“In college, there are more people and better people. The coaches scout them to help our team win. In the games, we’re playing at our feet all the time.”
The enrollment is a little over 2,000, so probably after two years, Kalauli will know everybody at Lynn, which ranked 55th as a best value school.
She was an active kid, started soccer at 9 years old, played volleyball in the fourth grade, but eventually chose soccer. She also did hula and hip hop. She later played club ball for Na Hoa O Puna, Chicas, Kona Crush, Lanikila, and Hawaii Surf.
Kalauli was Miss Orchid Isle Teen in 2020. The experience helped her in more ways than she could have imagined.
“I had to learn how to speak. Big Island girls we always speak pidgin. It’s not fit for interviews,” she said. “I had to talk without fidgeting or stuttering, walk in heels on stage by myself in front of judges. I had to feel confident in what I looked like.”
That sort of tied into her passion for fashion, thanks to her siblings.
“I grew up with so many sisters that I wanted to change their outfits and accessories,” Kalauli said. “In science class, I was drawing, and I didn’t know I would be good at sketching. One of my first dress sketches was in science class. I grew to learn all different designers when I got to model their stuff.”
She likes Manaola and Kamohoalii. But her favorite is bikini wear from www.leimakani.com. That’s because it’s designed by her sister Kali’a Wasson.
Kalauli’s fashion icon is Kendall Jenner, who’s bringing back Boho chic, a style of fashion drawing on various bohemian and hippie influences.
“I like her sense of style,” Kalauli said. “She’s more my style. She’ll wear crop tops, mom or ripped jeans, latex pants, or boots.”
This semester, Kalauli is taking a fashion retail management class, where she’s learning about textiles and doing company research papers. Basically, she’s learning the nuts and bolts of the fashion business. Next semester, she’s set to take an accounting class.
She’s even spending time teaching her Fighting Knight teammates Hawaiian. She recently taught them aloha kakahiaka or good morning.
Kalauli has found the perfect fit at Lynn. There’s even good food nearby.
“The food in the cafe is really good. They cook the food right in front of us,” she said. “My sister lives 30 minutes from the school.”
So whenever Kalauli wants to hit one of Boca Raton’s sunshine beaches, she can model her sister’s Lei Makani swimwear items.