LARAMIE – Faith has always been a large part of Jaeden Vaifanua’s life.
That’s why the University of Wyoming sophomore-to-be will spend some time away from school and basketball, and follow her faith and serve an 18-month mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Serving a mission is something that has always been at the top of her list of priorities.
If COVID-19 allows, Vaifanua will travel to a missionary training center June 17 before serving in Tucson, Arizona.
“Since I can remember, I knew this is something I have always wanted to do,” Vaifanua told WyoSports. “It’s hard to step away from basketball, my coaches and my teammates, but I have been waiting since I was really young. … My church and faith mean so much to me, and I want to show people what is most important to me.
“This will be challenging in a new way, but a challenge that I am excited about.”
As of right now, all missionary training centers are shut down while current missionaries serve on a similar schedule and go through the process online. If the MTC’s are still closed by the time Vaifanua is scheduled to start her mission, she will experience the same online process.
Vaifanua’s schedule will remain as busy as it was during her time spent as a student-athlete. Her days will consist of teaching individuals about her church and her faith. The year-and-a-half-long voyage will include doing services for and helping other individuals, as well. A main influence in her decision to serve her mission was seeing her older brother serve his.
“I’ve always looked up to my brother,” she said. “And when I saw him go away on his mission and how happy he was, it made me that much more excited for my opportunity (to serve).”
Vaifanua – a 6-foot-1 forward – was a key component in the Cowgirls’ success last season. She averaged 7.1 points and 4.3 rebounds while appearing in each of UW’s 29 games during her rookie campaign. Her play earned her a spot on the Mountain West all-freshman team. She also was the first Cowgirls freshman to rack up multiple double-doubles in a season since Kayla Woodward (2011-12).
Her contributions will be missed, but she can’t deny the first year in Laramie was a fantastic one.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better first season in Laramie,” she said. “It went better than I had expected it to, and I’m grateful I got to play with that team and in front of all of those great fans.”
A native of Draper, Utah, Vaifanua won’t be too far from home if she does make the planned journey to Tucson. It is an 11-hour drive from Draper, and much closer to home than many missionaries serve. However, she will not have the opportunity to see her family and can only speak to them once a week via email on what are known as “P” days. Her social media engagement also will be limited, as she can only use social media platforms to display the experiences of her journey.
While she may not have the chance to sport a brown-and-gold uniform this winter, second-year Cowgirls coach Gerald Mattinson said he’d be glad to offer the opportunity for Vaifanua to join the team if there is a roster spot available when her mission is complete.
And if she has played in her final game as a Cowgirl, she is thankful for everything that came with it.
“Everyone has supported my decision to go on my journey so much,” she said. “My teammates, my coaches and the whole university have been supportive during this time and of my decision, and I just can’t thank them enough.”