LAHAINA - More than three million keiki across the country tried their best, and just 32 remain. One is Lahaina's own Lalelei Mataafa, a star in this national competition.
Mataafa, 13, on Sunday will compete in the 2011 San Diego Chargers NFL Punt, Pass & Kick Team Championship at Qualcomm Stadium. The contest will be held around the Chargers' game with the Buffalo Bills.
She earned her ticket by winning the Sectional Competition, age 11-12 girls division, with a 360-foot combined punt, pass and place kick.
If Mataafa can place in the top four nationwide in her age group, she will receive a trip to the National Finals at an NFC Playoff game in January 2012.
The athletic Lahaina Intermediate School eighth-grader has competed on the national PPK stage for four years and won a national crown as a nine-year-old in 2008.
"This year, I'm ready and confident. Punt, Pass and Kick is what I've been training for since I was eight years old - the first one to win the national title for Hawaii," she said.
Mataafa doesn't just pick up the pigskin during football season.
"Training is year-round for me. I'm constantly out at the park practicing, whether I'm at soccer practice perfecting my kicks or just going to the football field throwing a ball around with my dad and kicking field goals. It's just a priority on my schedule," she said. "I hope all my dedication in training pays off."
Setting out on her fourth trip to the nationals, Mataafa no longer feels nervous competing in an NFL stadium and can focus on performing her best.
"Now that I've been there a couple of times, I feel confident and sure that I'm really ready this time... the pressure is off my shoulders, so I'm going out there for the win," she explained.
Lalelei's mother, Sophie, proudly pointed out that her daughter holds three all-time records in the archives of NFL Punt, Pass & Kick.
The national contest has been held for more than 60 years, and today more than three million boys and girls ages 7-15 compete.
Lalelei is aware of the numbers and her rare opportunity on Sunday.
"To compete at a national level is exciting. It gives you and 32 other national-ranked competitors a chance to give all they got," she said.
"To be there is thrilling, because to know that out of four million kids that try to make it to nationals, you're one of the 32 who did. It makes you more confident to know that you are already one of the best coming into the finals."
A multi-sport athlete and LIS Renaissance Gold Card scholar with a 3.8 grade point average, Lalelei wrestles with the Lahaina Roughnecks. She is a six-year state champion.
She also plays hoops in the West Maui Youth Basketball League and works out as an understudy with the Lahainaluna High School water polo team. She is shadowing the team and practicing with them until she can play next year.
Lalelei has been to the national contest three times since winning the top spot in 2008. Practice has been going well, and she's excited to take the field.
"To win, I'll have to be accurate and be sure of myself. So far this year, I've been averaging really high scores when practicing," she said.
"I know that I've done good in my training and that I'll do even better when the real competition begins. I'm pumped and ready to show my skills at the competition in San Diego!"