When freshman Mia Tuaniga’s mother sees her daughter running onto the court at the Galen Center in a USC uniform, she gets a little teary-eyed.
“She has come a long way because she has worked so hard just to be where she is at,” Tinei Tuaniga said. “This is what she deserves and this is where she needs to be.”
Mia grew up in Long Beach with her parents and her siblings. She started playing volleyball at the age of 10 when her mother started her volleyball club, APEX1.
The whole family was involved in the operation. On paper, her two brothers would be the coaches, but her parents would also be around and offer advice when needed.
Her brother, Gus Tuaniga played at the University of Hawaii and is now the owner of the APEX1 volleyball club.
Her other brother, Josh Tuaniga, played at Long Beach State. He was a two-time NCAA champion, was on the U.S. men’s national team and now plays in Poland.
People would think that having your whole family essentially be your coach would make you insane.
“There were times where, oh you know, my brother and I got in a fight, and I had to get in the car with him because I could not drive at the time, and I would be like, ‘Uhh, you have to drive me to practice,’” Tuaniga said.
“I would not change that for the world. I loved being coached by my parents and my brothers. They know so much about volleyball. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their knowledge and what they’ve taught me. As a person and as a player.”
In addition to club volleyball, Tuaniga played for Mater Dei High School. She led the Monarchs to the 2019 California Interscholastic Federation Division semifinal.
She was also named the 2019-20 California Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year, a 2019-20 UnderArmour First Team All-American and 2019 Orange County Player of the Year throughout her illustrious high school career.
With these many accolades, Tuaniga drew attention from different schools across the country. Her top choices in high school were Long Beach State, UCLA, Arizona and Washington. She eventually picked Long Beach State because of its proximity to home, and her brother also played volleyball there.
“I used to go to the games all the time,” Tuaniga said. “Just being able to step in the gym and step on campus and I know so many people and so many people know me — everyone’s family over there.”
Due to COVID-19, her 2020 season never happened at Long Beach State. Afraid that LBSU would cancel its 2021 season as well, Tuaniga decided to transfer.
She had her choice between four top schools: USC, UCLA, Texas and Nebraska, eventually settling on USC.
“This is USC. So many people wish to be in this position, and the fact that I’m here, and I get to represent this program and my family at the same time, it is such a blessing,” Tuaniga said.
Now, she finally gets to play in 2021 and said it is quite different from her high school experience. Everything is much faster, and also more competitive.
“In high school, you can chill sometimes, but being in the Pac-12, every match and every practice is a battle,” Tuaniga said.
Tuaniga has been able to develop strong relationships with her coaches in order to execute every day at practice and at matches.
“In the beginning, you have to ask, ‘What kind of coaches are you guys?’ “And at the same time they are asking themselves, ‘What kind of player is Mia?’” Tuaniga said. “But I really like how we have come together and we figured out how to communicate with each other, which is really important.”
The setter position requires her to have a strong relationship with her hitters as well. Tuaniga has been developing relationships with the graduate seniors and seniors on the team.
“At the end of the day, we are all striving for the same goal. We put all our differences aside,” Tuaniga said. “I love all of them, and we have come a long way with all of our relationships as individuals.”
Growing up, Tuaniga and her family would have never thought that she would be playing at USC. Being able to interact with the coaches and the team is something she cherishes every day.
When one of her brothers used to play against USC, she was in the stands. Now, she is on the court playing in front of fans at USC.
“The fact that they see their own daughter here, and the fact that I get to represent them and get to represent my last name here at USC, that’s a huge deal,” Tuaniga said.
Her mother cannot explain the feelings that she gets when she sees her daughter at every home game at Galen Center.
“Just to see her play the sport that she loves, we are just so proud. Words cannot express how we feel,” Tinei Tuaniga said. “We are so grateful for the opportunity for her to be there.”