Toluono key player for Golden Eagles
USU Eastern freshman Kaitlin Toluono overcame a potentially devastating illness and is now thriving on the collegiate basketball scene. (Tyson Chappell/USU Eastern)
By Greg James | email@example.com
As Kaitlin Toluono neared her 12th birthday her doctors discovered a tumor in her back; after enduring a risky surgery she was told she may never walk again. She proved the doctors wrong and has become a talented collegiate basketball player at USU Eastern in Price, Utah.
“I think I was about 7 years old when I started playing basketball. My parents wanted me to be involved in different sports. I played soccer, softball and volleyball, but basketball is definitely my favorite.” Toluono said. “This has been a transition season. College is definitely different than high school. I love how much I have improved this year.”
She had beaten her toughest battle long before she jogged onto the basketball court at Taylorsville High School.
Back pain initially diagnosed as a pinched nerve unearthed a much larger problem bone cancer called ewing’s sarcoma. An MRI discovered a tumor in the top of her spine.
Her cancer was a rare form; fewer than 1000 cases diagnosed each year. It is typically found in children and young adults.
“She never showed signs of slowing down with us. I am sure there were issues that I did not know about,” Taylorsville head girls basketball coach Jodi Lee said. “I would use ‘tough’ as a word to describe her. She was our top rebounder and scorer. She worked so hard and is super motivated.”
Toluono would not give up on her therapy and willed herself to regain her strength and motor skills. She decided to continue playing basketball after she finished her chemo treatments and joined an AAU team with her cousin.
“When I got done with my chemo I definitely had a better work ethic. My Dad asked me if I would like to continue playing. I decided on basketball,” she said.
In her senior season at Taylorsville she led the Warriors to a 10-12 record and an appearance in the first round of the state playoffs (a 60-32 loss to Layton). She was voted third team all-state by the Deseret News and averaged 17.3 points per game.
The USU Eastern Eagles finished this season 15-15. Toluono averaged 7.5 points per game. She scored a season high 22 against Colorado Northwestern Community College Feb. 4 in a 76-70 victory.
“She is obviously a freshman, but she is a key player for us this year and for what we want to do next year,” USU Eastern head coach Chelsey Warburton said. “We have her guard the best player on the team. That could be a one, two, three or four (positions). She plays a lot of minutes and starts as a freshman.”
The Eagles entered the Scenic West Athletic Conference tournament as the region's fifth seed. They won their first game March 2 71-49 over Colorado Northwestern. They then fell to eventual region champion Salt Lake Community College 66-47.
Toluono scored 12 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the two-day tournament.
“She is a fun girl, she would break out in dance sometimes. It was fun to have her and her sister on the same team. We have followed her and I encourage the girls on our team to go a support her. It helps to have a good relationship with the college coaches and is a good thing for our program,” Lee said.
“Taylorsville has graduated some amazing athletes, but from my era Kaitlin has set the bar. I could not be more proud.”
Toluono is the daughter of Michelle and Toni and has an older brother, Dominik, and two younger sisters, Morgan and Malia.
“I would definitely tell kids who are trying, not to be discouraged with failures. They can help you in the future and push you farther into success,” Toluono said. “I have a goal to continue playing and maybe play for four years somewhere.”