Anchorage — Where competition exists, recent West High grad Pauline Tufi will likely be there.
Whether grinding out an A in a tough class or winning a state title in sports, Tufi relishes pressure and is quick to take on a challenge.
"I hate failing," said Tufi, who posted a 3.87 GPA this year. "I'm competitive on and off the field. School is always the No. 1 priority."
To say sports play a major role in Tufi's life is an understatement. Her ambitious nature led to 16 athletic letters across five different varsity sports in four years at West. She won a state softball title in 2011 and a track and field state title in shot put this season. She also lent her athletic talents to West's volleyball, hockey and basketball teams, but there is no mistaking Tufi's favorite sport.
"Softball has been in my life for the longest time and it's been my comfort zone for the longest," Tufi said. Her skills on the diamond landed her a full-ride scholarship to Division-I Louisiana Tech, where she expects to play third base and pitch while pursuing a degree in either physical education or sports medicine.
It was Tufi's thunderous bat that first caught the eye of Louisiana Tech coach Mark Montgomery. In the summer of 2010, Tufi was playing with a travel team on the campus of Northern Colorado, where Montgomery was coaching at the time. Montgomery was there to scout a pitcher on the opposing team, but Tufi planted herself firmly on his radar when she went 4 for 4 with three home runs and a line-drive double into the gap.
Tufi is equally comfortable blasting home runs as pitching shutouts. Her blazing fast ball is tough for even the best of hitters to lock onto, which helps Tufi routinely record double-digit strikeout totals.
"I like pitching, because I feel like I can control it more (than hitting)," Tufi said. "If I'm on point, then my team will be on point."
Tufi, 18, knew she wanted to be a pitcher since she was 6 and she told her grandfather Bob Douthit of her aspirations. Douthit, who has coached softball for more than 30 years, wasn't so sure of her prospects. He told Tufi it was too late, that she was to old to start learning to pitch, but she wasn't deterred.
Tufi spent the next year training with her mother Becky Mason, a former pitcher who learned the game from Douthit, her father. When Douthit saw how serious Tufi was and how good she had gotten in a year, he started training her.
"We threw 100 pitches before we did anything else, every day," Tufi said. "It was like, wake up, eat breakfast and go pitch. It became a passion, his and mine."
Those early-morning workouts built stamina in Tufi's arm. She often pitches back-to-back complete games on the same day, sometimes after coming straight from the shot put field.
One of the busiest days for Tufi came May 4, her birthday. She started her day at a 9 a.m. track and field meet and then went straight to a softball doubleheader at 3 p.m. She was late for the first softball game, but took over as pitcher in the middle innings. She finished that game and then pitched the entire second game, before heading off to perform with her dance class at West High.
"I was exhausted," said Tufi, who could barely stay awake during the dance class' post-performance celebration that evening.
Tufi's busy schedule was manageable because of her supportive family, which helped her out wherever they could, even assisting with school projects when possible.
Tufi's mom is a physical education teacher at West and manages the gym there. That meant she had to be at the gym for all the school's evening activities, which meant Tufi was there too.
"She grew up in the gym," Mason said. "Since she was 2, she's been in the gym."
When Tufi started gravitating toward sports, her mom let her choose which ones to play.
"She's the one who has to go to practice and do homework," Mason said. "I'm only responsible for feeding her and making sure she's where she needs to be."
Though Tufi has never done any weight training, her cross-training in different sports helped develop her athletic abilities, which transferred nicely to softball. Hockey increased leg strength to help Tufi push off the mound and the footwork in volleyball and basketball gave her agility and balance.
Tufi's busiest season was her sophomore season, the only one in which she played all five sports. She sat out the hockey season as a junior and a car accident in the fall of 2012 injured Tufi's pitching arm, so she sat out last volleyball season to let the injury heal.
Volleyball is Tufi's second favorite sport. She likes the true team aspect of the game, the way all the players on the court have to work in sync. She missed playing so much last fall, she volunteered to be a line judge at matches. It drove her crazy being on the sidelines, however, because she wanted so badly to be on the court competing.
Tufi's last chance to compete for West is this weekend in the state softball tournament, where she expects Lathrop and East will be the toughest teams to beat. As always, Tufi is up for the challenge and looking forward to ending her high school athletic career on the softball field.
"Softball is an individual sport and a team sport," Tufi said. "It's the only sport that the defense starts with the ball and I love that. I fall in love with it everyday when I play."
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.