Punahou twins back with bang
The Kuehu sisters are eager to bring another state title home
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Punahou's roundball sister act is back.
Two-time Star-Bulletin player of the year Shawna-Lei Kuehu and twin sister Shaena-Lyn Kuehu both have returned to the court for the Buffanblu after ACL injuries cost them their junior seasons.
Despite a tough preseason schedule that included seven mainland opponents, Shawna-Lei, a 5-foot-10 senior who signed a national letter of intent to play for Cal next year, and defensive maven Shaena-Lyn showed flashes of the form that helped lead Punahou (7-5 in preseason) to state titles in 2005 and 2006.
The twins lead the Buffanblu, No. 1 in the Star-Bulletin Girls Basketball Top 10, into ILH play starting tomorrow.
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RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Shaena-Lyn Kuehu (21) and twin sister Shawna-Lei (23) are back from serious knee injuries.
Shawna-Lei Kuehu, Punahou's 5-foot-10 all-everything senior forward, is rounding back into game shape a year after an anterior cruciate ligament injury cost her her entire junior season.
Twin sister Shaena-Lyn also returned from an ACL injury, reclaiming her role as the Buffanblu's lockdown defensive presence.
Shaking off the rust from her 12-month hiatus, Shawna-Lei --sporting a brace on her left leg -- returned to the court for preseason tournaments earlier this month at McKinley and Iolani, and promptly treated spectators to glimpses of the dominant phenom who led Punahou to back-to-back state championships in 2005 and '06.
The two-time Star-Bulletin player of the year, who last month signed a national letter of intent to play for Cal next year, averaged 19.8 points, 11 rebounds, 3.5 steals, 2.2 assists and 2.1 blocks per game during her sophomore campaign.
She capped Punahou's '06 championship run with a title-game record of 37 points in the Buffanblu's win over Roosevelt.
Shaena-Lyn was no slouch herself before her injury, earning Star-Bulletin Fab 15 honors with her defensive prowess.
"(Shaena-Lyn) gets overshadowed by her sister, but she's one of the top players in the state," Punahou coach Mike Taylor said.
Shawna-Lei followed up her virtuoso championship-game performance with impressive play last summer. She and Shaena-Lyn competed with their Kalakaua Foundation club team in Oregon and Washington. Shawna-Lei then was invited to barnstorm with an elite California Storm team at tournaments in Chicago and North Carolina.
In the fall of 2006, the twins helped lead Team Aloha, an all-star team organized and sponsored by the Hawaii High School Athletic Association and Mayor Mufi Hanneman, to the championship of the Nike Storm & Swish Shootout in Santa Barbara, Calif.
And then in short order, double trouble struck.
Shaena-Lyn tore the ACL in her left knee in November. A little more than a month later, Shawna-Lei suffered a torn ACL, also in her left knee, in a fall league game.
"It was hard to sit and watch, knowing we had no way to help out," Shaena-Lyn said, recalling the bittersweet experience of seeing her teammates make it back to the championship game before falling to Konawaena.
"Yeah, it was hard," Shawna-Lei agreed, "because we couldn't really do anything."
Taylor points out that the twins helped in other ways.
"They were still real supportive, helping the (younger) girls out," he said. "Just telling them about what it was like to play varsity and the intensity it required."
If there was any silver lining to the unfortunate symmetry of their injuries, it was that the twins' teammates learned to raise their games without them.
Players like gritty guards Janelle Nomura, Rebecca Lau and Dara Tompkison and junior post Tressa Torres gained valuable experience during Punahou's run to state runner-up status a year ago.
"(Having to play without us) pushed them," said Shawna-Lei.
"It showed everyone they can do it," said Shaena-Lyn. "It showed them it's not just (Shawna and me)."
The twins rehabbed their knees with two-hour sessions, weight-room workouts, and running sessions on the sand at Maili and Yokohama beaches, near their grandmother's home.
With Shawna-Lei and Shaena-Lyn back in the mix, Punahou prepped for ILH play with a tough preseason schedule this year.
The early-season returns suggest that the Kuehu twins are close to being all the way back and that the Buffanblu are primed to defend their perch atop the Star-Bulletin Top 10.
Two weeks ago at the Iolani Prep Classic, the sister act set the crowd abuzz with flashes of midseason form against Los Angeles powers Narbonne (Harbor City, Calif.) and Redondo Union (Redondo Beach, Calif.).
In a 47-39 win over Narbonne, Shawna-Lei put her full array of breathtaking offensive moves on display en route to a game-high 24 points.
Shaena-Lyn frustrated Narbonne's post players with her defense on and off the ball, and at times took over ballhandling duties to break the Gauchos' fullcourt press.
Both displayed their penchant for darting into passing lanes for steals and triggering opportunistic Buffanblu fast breaks.
During one third-quarter sequence, Shawna-Lei controlled a rebound, quickly looked up court and connected with Shaena-Lyn on a length-of-the-court baseball pass for an easy layup.
Shawna-Lei thinks her court vision improved as a result of her forced time off.
"I learned what I could do different in my game. It's different when you watch (from the bench)," she said. "You notice things."
Punahou fell to a relentless Redondo Union squad in the tournament title game the following night, as Shawna-Lei struggled through a 2-for-10 shooting night.
Shawna-Lei battled Redondo's Atonye Nyingifa, a 6-foot UCLA signee, down low and filled up the rest of the scoring sheet with six rebounds, five steals and three blocks.
"Hawaii teams compete, no matter if we're winning or losing," Shawna-Lei said after the game. "That's one thing that Hawaii teams have, the drive and the heart. We keep competing and keep our heads high, no matter if we're up or down."
Amid all the acclaim they've received, both sisters are focused on team goals.
"As a team, (our goal is to) reach our potential, win or lose, and to play hard," said Shawna-Lei, who is ranked a five-star prospect as a guard by Scout.com.
"I think we get much more accomplished when we play together," said Shaena-Lyn, who says she has "no idea" yet where she'll play college ball next year.
Last week, Punahou (7-5) concluded their challenging preseason slate by going 1-3 at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix, dropping a rematch to Narbonne, 45-42 in the eleventh-place game.
The Buffanblu open regular-season league play at No. 10 Mid-Pacific tomorrow night and take on No. 3 Kamehameha on Saturday.