FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kalani junior striker Tani Costa picked Penn State over Ohio State and many other colleges.
Falcon takes wing
Costa makes the national soccer scene, and meets some football legends, too
Hawaii sports fans awaiting the arrival of the next big thing in prep sports need wait no longer.
The biggest new star to grace the high school scene since Derrick Low is such a big deal that two of the most successful coaches in college football today were involved in the recruiting process.
The funny thing is, Tani Costa doesn't even play football.
No, the Kalani High School junior is not a hard-hitting middle linebacker, nor a gun-slinging quarterback. She is a soccer player, and a darn good one.
With a rare blend of skill, strength and speed, Costa has proven herself to be of the most precious of all soccer commodities -- a finisher.
"First and foremost, Tani is a good girl," said Jose Dydasco, Costa's coach with the Honolulu Bulls Soccer Club since she was 9. "Her parents did a great job with her. With all of her talent, she is humble and she works for everything she gets. On the soccer field, she is what everyone is looking for -- a pure finisher. It is very hard to find Americans with the knack for scoring goals she has."
For the past two seasons the high-flying Falcons striker has been a goal-scoring machine. As a sophomore last season, Costa put away 12 goals as Kalani captured the OIA Red East championship. For her efforts, Costa earned league player of the year and All-State first team honors.
This year, Costa has put forth an outstanding encore performance, netting 22 goals as Kalani successfully defended its division championship and advanced to the OIA semifinals. Costa's goal total is even more impressive considering she missed three regular-season matches while she was on the mainland to train with the Under-17 U.S. Women's National Team.
Costa was first selected to the Hawaii State Team in the U.S. Olympic Development Program in 2003 and has made the annual trip to Regional camp each year since.
Costa earned her first selection to the Region IV travel team in 2006 after a strong showing at the ODP camp in Moscow, Idaho.
The next stop for Costa was Coral Springs, Fla., where her Region IV team played against select teams from the other three ODP regions. After another outstanding showing there, Costa was officially on the soccer map, and soon, she would be all over it.
In July, Costa accepted an invitation to the Adidas Elite Soccer Program in Pomona, Calif., where she was selected to the all-star team under the tutelage of 1999 World Cup champions Tony DiCicco, Joy Fawcett, Shannon McMillan and Cindy Parlow.
A few days later, Costa was in South Orange, N.J., to train with the U-16 Girls National Team. In November, Costa was back in Florida for the ODP Thanksgiving Inter-regional Tournament. Two months later, Costa returned to Florida again, this time to train with the U-17 National Team.
The real indication that Costa had gone national came this fall in her junior year of high school when the recruiting binge began. Overtures from UCLA, Notre Dame, Portland, Rutgers, Iowa, Washington State, Purdue, Utah, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and UNLV among others called seeking the services of the 5-foot-8, 140-pound Costa.
In the end, Costa narrowed down her choices to Penn State and Ohio State. She took unofficial visits to both campuses in October with her father, Derek. The time spent in Big Ten country was a real treat for Derek, a member of Kaiser High's 1979 Prep Bowl championship team.
"They really rolled out the red carpet," Derek Costa said. "At Ohio State we got to meet (head football coach) Jim Tressel and Archie Griffin. That was pretty neat, meeting the only man to win two Heisman Trophies.
"The next day, they gave us front-row seats for their football game against Wisconsin. There were 112,000 fans. The place was going crazy."
The recruiting experience was even better at Penn State, as the school's living legend got in on the act to lure Costa. During their tour of the campus, the Costas were brought down to the school's football stadium, where the Penn State football team was practicing.
There, Joe Paterno, the school's football coach for 42 seasons, did his part to coerce Costa into coming to Happy Valley.
"It was so awesome," Tani said. "Joe Paterno is such a sweet man. He's so down to earth. We walked onto the field and he brought in all his football players -- they were so big, all like 100-something of them -- they surrounded us. He started talking about me. That was pretty neat. He told me his granddaughter plays soccer, so my Dad promised him that when I come to school I will give her lessons. He said he was gonna hold me to it."
Although the school's soccer program is among the nation's best, Costa, who carries a 3.7 grade-point average, was equally impressed with the educational opportunities Penn State presents. Costa has verbally committed to accept a scholarship to play for the Nittany Lions.
"Sure, I want to be in the Olympics and play on a World Cup team someday, and going to Penn State will help me with that," said Costa, who aspires to a career in orthopedic medicine. "I wanna go all the way to the highest level and be the best soccer player ever. But one of the main reasons I picked this school is their medical program and the support they offer their student-athletes."
With her career as a Nittany Lion secured, Costa returned home to lead Kalani into the semifinals of the OIA Tournament. Unfortunately for the Falcons, Kalani's 1-0 loss to Kapolei in the league's third-place match was their last of the season.
Last week, she received the call informing her that she was one of 18 players selected to represent the U.S. at the Future Stars Tournament in Auckland, New Zealand. There Costa and the rest of Team USA will face Australia, Germany and host New Zealand in an event that will serve as a preview of the first FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup to be held at the same site beginning in late October.
"Tani is an exciting player," said Kazbek Tambi, head coach of the U-17 Women's National Team. "She's very strong, technically proficient in shooting and she can penetrate. She has a lot to offer the game of women's soccer."
The Future Stars opportunity means that Costa will miss this weekend's JN Automotive/HHSAA Girls Soccer Championships.
"She couldn't call me to tell me because she wanted to stay and play with her team," Kalani coach Myles Arakawa said. "But we told her this is a no-brainer. This is a lot bigger than just playing for your school. But that's the kind of girl she is, she wanted to play with us and do it for our seniors. She was really torn and that shows her real spirit."