Boise State’s Brooke Pahukoa celebrates her team’s 66-53 win over Fresno State in the championship game of the 2017 Mountain West Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament on March 10, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

Boise State’s Brooke Pahukoa celebrates her team’s 66-53 win over Fresno State in the championship game of the 2017 Mountain West Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament on March 10, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

Sports Woman of the Year: Basketball player Brooke Pahukoa

The Lake Stevens native capped a stellar career at Boise State by leading her team to the NCAA tourney.

As the Boise State University women’s basketball team was cutting down the nets after winning the Mountain West Conference Championship in March of 2017, Brooke Pahukoa wasn’t celebrating demonstrably or acting giddy, as one might expect from the player who had just led the Broncos to the title. Instead, while standing in the center of the maelstrom, she was calm and reflective.

“It was one of those moments in your life where you feel like you’re watching it from above,” Pahukoa said. “I was experiencing it, but I wasn’t fully there. In that situation I’d usually be having fun and jumping up and down. But with this one I was just trying to let everything seep in. I was a sponge, constantly looking at my teammates’ faces, or my parents, or my coaches, or watching the fans, trying to soak up everything because I knew it was my last time.”

It was a definitive moment to cap off a fabulous career, and it’s why Pahukoa is the Herald’s 2017 Woman of the Year in Sports.

Pahukoa will be honored Sept. 19 at the Snohomish County Sports Hall of Fame Banquet at the Edward D. Hansen Conference Center at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett.

Pahukoa, a graduate of Lake Stevens High School, was the driving force for a Boise State team that broke records during the 2016-17 season. The senior guard led the team in scoring at 13.6 points per game, adding 4.2 rebounds and ranking second on the team in both 3-pointers (47 in 31 games) and steals (41). Her efforts helped the Broncos finish 25-8 to set a school record for victories in a season, as well as reach the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years, and she was named to the All-Mountain West Team.

Pahukoa saved her best for last. She averaged 17.7 points during Boise State’s three Mountain West Conference Championship games and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. She was the closer in the Broncos’ 66-53 victory over Fresno State in the title game, scoring 10 of her team-high 17 points in the fourth quarter. She became just the second player ever to win the tournament MVP twice, as she also took home the honor in 2015.

“We followed her really closely,” said Lake Stevens girls basketball coach Randy Edens, who coached Pahukoa throughout her prep career. “She had the opportunity to go to bigger programs if she chose, but the fact she chose Boise State was a good fit for all sides. She’s left a legacy with her willingness to be an active part of the program, and when you come across people like that, it’s special.”

Yet for all of Pahukoa’s senior-year triumph, it nearly didn’t happen. Knowing the end of her college career was in sight, Pahukoa went through a funk beginning in late January and continuing through most of February, averaging just 7.6 points over the span of seven games. She bottomed out in the last game of that stretch, when she scored just two points on 1-for-8 shooting in a game at Wyoming.

It required a heart-to-heart talk with her dad, Jeff, to get her back on track.

“In January it really hit me that this was the last time I’d be playing the sport I love with the team I love, and I definitely got into my own head,” Pahukoa recalled. “My coach (Gordy Presnell) tried many times, bless his heart, to pull me out of it, telling me to enjoy the game. But then I had a phone conversation with my dad, who in the nicest way possible told me I’d regret it if I got so worried about missing out on something or not being a part of a team. Usually it’s something athletes face once they actually transition out of their sport but, maybe because of my education in psychology, I was thinking about it before I was out of the game. My dad said it was definitely 100 percent up to me if I was going to go back to the player I was, it’s going to end whether I want it to or not. I don’t know what it was, but it did it for me.”

Part of what made the season extra special for Pahukoa was sharing it with her twin sister, Brittney, who was also a member of the Boise State team.

“Having my sister play with me was special,” said Pahukoa, who also credited her Lake Stevens community for her success. “I became the player I got to be because of her taking the journey with me. I’ve may have had more awards and celebrations through our careers, but she really is the wind beneath my wings.”

Pahukoa graduated from Boise State in 2017 with her degree in psychology. However, she remains a part of the Broncos’ athletic department, serving as a graduate assistant with the BroncoLIFE program, which assists athletes with personal and career development outside their sports.

No, Pahukoa is no longer a member of a team. But she’s still found a way to contribute.

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