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Much More Than A Great Athlete

Shawna-Lei Kuehu shoots against UC-Santa Barbara's Krystle Marcellus HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER PHOTO

Shawna-Lei Kuehu shoots against UC-Santa Barbara’s Krystle Marcellus HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER PHOTO

Shawna-Lei Kuehu has had a remarkable run the last few months. In March, the University of Hawaii women’s basketball team co-captain helped lead the Rainbow Wahine to their second straight post-season appearance. In May, she graduated with a degree in economics right around the same time she heard that NCAA had granted her another year of eligibility. And in June, she started a coveted summer internship at Queen Lili’uokalani Trust.

If that’s not good enough, this month — on Saturday (July 12) to be exact — the most important person in her life, her daughter Kaiona, turns 2 years old. “She’s been like the team baby the last couple years,” Kuehu says. “She’s been to games and practices, sat through team meetings and been on team outings. She brings such joy to the team.”

The 24-year-old Kuehu thanks her family for the support that has allowed her to become a great mom, a gifted student-athlete and a college graduate with yet another degree in her future. She plans to get a second degree in Hawaiian Studies this upcoming year. I caught up with her during a break in her internship’s work schedule.

“I’ve been in on investment meetings and development meetings, and I’m seeing how they manage the assets of the Queen’s trust and how it helps benefit the children,” she says. “I’m learning a lot.”

Kuehu’s bright future is great news for someone who first burst into the local sports headlines nearly 10 years ago. As a freshman at Punahou in 2004-5, she and her twin Shaena-Lyn helped lead the Buffanblu to a state championship. The following season, as just a sophomore, she scored a record 37 points in the state title game as Punahou won another championship. In 2008, her team was champ again, but it was the record-smashing effort of her sophomore year that secured her reputation as one of the most prolific local players in the state’s history.

“People still talk to me about that game,” she says. “I’ve watched it again, too, and it seemed that everything went right, not just for me, but for our team. Everyone was in synch. I’m looking forward to watching someone else break that record.”

Kuehu fought through adversity in the first few years out of high school. Committing first to Cal-Berkeley, she changed her mind and thus had to sit out a year before getting a chance to play at UH. Then, five games into a freshman season where she was averaging more than 15 points a game, she tore up her knee and missed the rest of the year. Later, her pregnancy forced her to miss most of another season. Determined to play and get her degree, Kuehu came back to become one of Hawaii’s most outstanding players — this past year, she led the team in steals and blocked shots while averaging more than 10 points a game.

“I learned to never give up, never quit,” she says. This spring, the NCAA looked over her career and circumstances and granted her a sixth year of eligibility. That means she’ll be back on the court again in 2014-15 for what amounts to another senior season.

After she earns her second degree, she hopes to build on what she’s learned.

“My goal is to possibly own my company,” she says. “My great-grandfather and my grandfather were in the tugboat industry, and I have my captain’s license and I’ve worked on a boat in Kaneohe Bay. I want to bring it all together — economics, business and Hawaiian culture. I love the water — it’s so healing, so calm and peaceful. I’m at home there.”

Shawna-Lei Kuehu is riding a great wave of positive news. She’s earned it.

“I feel blessed,” she says.