Getting to Know... Thessa Malau'ulu
The 12th installment of "Getting to Know…" features Thessa Malau'ulu, a freshman on the softball team. Malau'ulu, a left-handed hitting infielder, prepped at St. Anthony High School in Long Beach and played club with Firecrackers - Rico/Weil.
Q: How old were you when you started playing softball, and when did you know it would be the sport to take you to the next level?
A: I started softball when I was around six years old. I did T-ball with my siblings and cousins. But I think I knew that softball was the sport for me when I started travel ball at eight years old. I knew I wanted to compete at the next level. My parents were putting in the money to travel and participate, and I wanted to make sure that all of the money they put in wasn't going to waste. My family has always been into athletics. My dad played football at Arizona, and I knew I wanted to play at the next level as well, so I started taking everything more seriously as I got older.
Q: With your dad being a former football player at Arizona and now a football coach, what was your relationship like with your dad growing up?
A: Growing up, he was basically my coach. I definitely hated those car rides home for sure, because I knew he was always going to have something to say. But he would always end it with something like, 'I'm proud of you.' He knew he was pushing me and he was only doing it because he loved me. He says I'm definitely like him when he was younger in a lot of ways. He's been probably my number one support through everything and even to this day, he's always at every game. If he could go to my UCLA practices, he definitely would. Every time I finish practice, he calls me and asks me how it was and what we did that day, always wanting to know what's going on. So he's definitely a huge support in my life.
Q: How do you celebrate your culture and roots of being Polynesian and how do you hope to inspire the younger up-and-coming generation of softball players?
A: I think softball is definitely a sport for Polynesian girls because we do bring the strength. It's good because I have a lot of older cousins who played in college and who are still playing right now. My older sister, Chloe, is a redshirt sophomore at Mississippi State. We've always been competitive right when we both started. But she's an outfielder and I'm an infielder. She hits righty and I'm a lefty. So my dad was kind of glad that we weren't always butting heads on who is better. But we kind of both push each other to be better. So seeing her and my older cousins play at the next level, I really wanted to do it too. Now that there are more Polynesians in the sport of softball, it kind of shows my younger cousins that they can play too. I just feel like even if I don't know the Polynesian on the other team, at the end of the game it feels like we're family and that family sense is definitely there in the Polynesian community.
Q: What was it like being part of the 2017 CIF-SS Division 6 championship your freshman year at St. Anthony, and how did that success play a role in your leadership throughout your high school career?
A: I remember that day like it was yesterday. That season kind of shocked everyone because a lot of people knew that there would be a lot of incoming softball players, including a bunch of my cousins who now play at Oklahoma. So we came to the school and everyone was talking about how well the team was going to do. Then when we kept going in CIF and people saw how serious we were. That feeling of winning was probably one of my favorite softball memories of all time. There were seven freshmen and two juniors on the field, so all of us were just ecstatic and so excited when we won the championship. In terms of my leadership, I feel like I've always been a natural born leader. But in that sense of when I was a freshman, and now I feel the same way here. I'm not as much taking on that leadership role, but I'm learning. After that freshman year, from then on I knew what we could do. I saw how the older girls shaped us into accomplishing what we needed to do, so I think that's why we were really successful during my high school career.
Q: As a four-year varsity member and senior captain at St. Anthony this past spring, what was your reaction to finding out the rest of your final season would be canceled back in March?
A: It obviously wasn't the best news to hear because we were actually 8-0 heading into league play. Then we got a call about coronavirus cutting off the rest of our season. It kind of left me on a plateau. I was going up, and then we kind of just stopped. I was still motivated to keep playing at the time and it felt like a little hiccup in the road. But I think that motivation, if anything, is going to push me even more here at UCLA. I didn't really get to finish my senior year and a bunch of other things, so I'm motivated to do what I was planning on doing here now.
Q: As a Long Beach native, when was your first exposure to UCLA Softball and what was it about the program that drew you to become a Bruin?
A: When you hear the name UCLA, everyone knows what it is. It has it's credibility for sure. I knew from a young age that I wanted to go to a school that was strong both academically and athletically since my family holds both of those at a high standard. UCLA is probably the closest university to my house. I remember going to all the softball games when I was younger. I couldn't even imagine ending up going there because I was like, 'Oh my gosh, it's UCLA Softball.' So when I was given the opportunity, I jumped on it because this is my dream school and this is where I've always wanted to play.
Q: What is your day-to-day like with practices starting up and how has your transition been getting accustomed to the new team?
A: They've done a really good job of getting the freshmen used to a bunch of the rules and used to what they do up there, so I'm getting accustomed to the different things right now. They're honestly the best coaches that I've ever had because they're so invested in us. They're school first always, which has been really good. For the girls, they're a big family themselves, and that's what also drew me to want to go to UCLA because I saw that they were having fun on and off the field and they're very welcoming. If they're going out to eat or getting coffee after practice, they always invite me and offer me a ride, so they're very inclusive and it makes me feel welcomed.
Q: What are you studying at UCLA and what are your career goals or plans post-softball?
A: Right now, I am pre-human biology and society. My whole life, I've really been interested in the way the body works sports-wise. I've thought about sports medicine, and I've had a couple of family members in that industry where they've been able to use sports and medicine at the same time. I want to keep that sports sense with me, even after softball. I don't exactly know for sure what I want to do yet, or if I want to declare the major, but that's kind of where I'm at right now and we're going to see how it goes.
|Favorite thing to do outside of softball?
|Playing instruments or drawing
|If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
|California or Hawai'i
|Favorite music artist?
|Favorite television show?
|What is your go-to post-game meal?
|Favorite professional team to watch/follow?
|Las Vegas Raiders
|It has all of my best values: family, academics and sports
Previous "Getting to Know..." Publications
Obi Eboh – Football
Carlie Dorostkar – Cross Country/Track & Field
Sam Feit – Men's Tennis
Sam Baron – Swimming and Diving
Kengo Aoshima – Men's Golf
Aislynn Crowder – Women's Soccer
Kevin Diaz – Men's Soccer
Frida Esparza – Gymnastics
DJ Lawson – Cross Country/Track & Field
Emily Bessoir – Women's Basketball
Johnny Juzang - Men's Basketball