Prep track: Copper Hills sisters are throwing it for themselves
West Jordan • Heilala Havea stands in the field, arms outstreched.
"Get me," she says.
Her Copper Hills teammate sends a discus spinning in her direction. It lands five feet to her right. She frowns at him, then laughs as she picks it up and brings it back.
The 18-year-old senior is a joker, a laugher, a smiler. Her teammates call her Lala, and she and her sister Kamesi are a pair of vibrant, goofy souls who bring a bit of spirit to the low-key track practice.
Then Lala gets in the circle and is transformed. She's focused, precise. She twirls gracefully, and the discus simply soars out of her hand. This season, her toss of 126 feet and 6 inches is a statewide best, as is her shot put of 40 feet and half an inch. She's a defending state champion in the discus, an event in which her sister finished third last year as a freshman.
It's a family gift, but also a craft she's refined through the years. Her dedication has morphed her into a potential Division I track athlete. And the path was nothing she could imagine.
"When people hear we do track, they ask if we run," Lala says. "I'm like, 'Do we look like runners to you?' Then they ask if we're good. And we're like, 'Well, we've been to state, so I guess so.' "
She's been an athlete all her life, gravitating toward volleyball and basketball. But at about 5-foot-5, Havea wasn't blessed with the dimensions for those sports. It took a push from her mother to get the stocky Havea to even consider discus and shot put as ways to get to college.
Noue Havea recognized her daughters' talent early on.
The Havea girls have strong legs and a grace for the sport, something their hawk-eyed mother, Noue Havea, has honed through the years as the throwing coach at Copper Hills. Besides the team drills an hour before school and a few hours after, the girls watch film of themselves and look for flaws in their technique. In the offseason and during the summer, the family goes out for a few hours of throwing.
"Basically any sunny day, she wants to go out," Kamesi says. "And when we're not throwing, we're lifting or running. People don't know how much work it is."
Noue drives them hard, but few know how much she has sacrificed for the sisters' future.
She calls them her daughters, and they call her "Mom," but Noue did not give birth to them. Technically, Lala and Kamesi are her sisters-in-law, adopted by her and her husband, Rogeh Havea.
The couple saw that the children were left at home often, that they could fall through the cracks. When they were in elementary school, Rogeh asked Noue if they could adopt his sisters and raise them as their own children, and she agreed. It's characteristic of a couple who have only given birth to three children, but are raising nine.
"He saw they could go the way of the street, and he didn't want that," Noue says. "They're my daughters, and I'm their mom. I couldn't live without them now."
When Lala was a freshman, Noue volunteered to be a throwing coach for the Grizzlies, pressing her eldest daughter into the sport. Noue had competed at Ricks College and San Francisco State, but she relentlessly added to her knowledge, pushing her daughters to new heights or more aptly, lengths.
In contrast to the two giggly teenagers, Noue is often quietly stern, albeit gentle. They tease each other, playfully hit each other even sniff one another as a pre-throw routine, an inside joke as their mother stands to the side, shaking her head.
"I'm kind of shy, kind of a tomboy," she says. "They've got more girliness in them. They're like their mother."
She worries about how harsh she can be. In a previous season, she chastised Lala for goofing around while she was speaking to the team. The resulting clashes between the two led Noue to take a two-week break from coaching to cool off.
"I know I treat them differently," she says. "I worry about that, but I just want to keep them humble."
Even as she frets over her methods, Noue's girls are growing up with bright futures. Lala is trying to up her distance to get a scholarship to BYU, but Utah Valley University is also in the picture. Kamesi isn't far behind and even beat her sister in a meet a few weeks ago.
Her only regret? She didn't get any medals.
"I got nothing, no proof, just what's in the computer," she says helplessly, her sister grinning beside her. "I would've remembered it forever."
Throwing their way to scholarships
The Copper Hills track and field athletes are among the state's best throwers.
Heilala Havea, senior
Defending state champion in discus
Bests this season: 126'6" (discus), 40'0.5" (shot put)
Kamesi Havea, sophomore
Finished third in discus in 2011 at state
Bests this season: 116'3" (discus), 34'1.5" (shot put)