The calming force on the court that focuses the young and inexperienced Vikings’ offense is senior point guard Sharon Wahinekapu. Just like riding a wave, her cool Hawaiian composure and steely understanding of her position makes her a fierce competitor and the quiet leader of the Portland State offense.
After a bumpy road to PSU, Wahinekapu is having her best year ever as a senior. When she walks on the court she demands respect. As defenses pressure to force turnovers, calm sets in and the 5’7″ point guard moves the ball, juking, spinning, reversing and faking defenders out of their sneakers. Her greatest attribute is her ability to control the ball in the clutch. Whether it is passing into the post, dumping out to a shooter, or making a move to the basket Wahinekapu takes the role of leader in stride.
“Well, I have a lot of confidence in my ball handling and taking control of the game when you really need someone to take care of the ball. I have a lot of confidence in that and what I can do,” Wahinekapu said. “If anybody has to have the ball I’d want it to be me, and I don’t stress myself out in those situations cause you can’t do anything about it, you just have to take it as it comes. I try to stay calm for my team ’cause we have a lot of young players on the team so somebody has to stay to be focused.”
Hailing from Waimanalo, Hawaii, Wahinekapu always planned on going to Portland State even though she started her career at Chemetka Community College. While in high school she received offers from Big Sky school Eastern Washington, Columbia and even Yale. Ultimately it was the original coaches that lured Wahinekapu to Oregon.
“It was a big transition, cause the coaches before were laid back, they weren’t too much into conditioning. The most we ever did was run a mile. We did conditioning things but they weren’t as intense as Coach Elliott.” Wahinekapu said.
As a junior in high school, tragedy affected the Wahinekapu family as Sharon’s mother passed away from Parkinson’s disease. Sharon was the youngest of three children. This was a terribly traumatic situation for a high school student and couldn’t have come at a worse time, as Wahinekapu was just beginning to decide where to go for college.
“She was a big part of my life, she was a good friend. Losing her was a big thing for me. Seeing one parent up there is hard. She had Parkinson’s disease since I was about ten and the last two years it got real bad.” Wahinekapu said. “That was hard. I didn’t want to play basketball for a while because it was hard to not see her there.”
However her love for the game would prevail over the loss of her mother. She started slowly, playing at Chemetka for two years before transferring to Portland State.
Her true senior season is turning out to be the best of her career. She is averaging a little over 7 points a game, 2.8 assists per game while playing 29.6 minutes per game. All these numbers are close to double last year’s marks, but numbers cannot represent one important statistic. Her determination and ability to move the ball is second to none.
“I think Sharon has had a phenomenal senior year up to this point,” Vikings head coach Elliott said about her talented point guard. “She came back after the summertime with this new fire about her, and understanding our expectations and what we need from her as a senior, as a valuable team member. She has far exceeded every expectation I’ve had for her.”
Coach Elliott knows what it takes to get her players to play for her. After benching Wahinekapu for playing poor defense, the point guard came back with a vengeance, scoring a career high 19 points and three steals to lead her team to a victory against Idaho State.
“I joke with her and tell her I need to make her mad all time ’cause the time I benched her at Idaho State she came back, wouldn’t speak to me but ended up scoring the game of her life,” Elliott said. “As I talk with her and Heather today, this next few weeks are the times when our leaders really have to rise up. I just think Sharon has shown me a determination about her that I didn’t know existed.”
Although the coach has no plans to make her quiet team leader mad, the showing at Idaho State gives her something to think about.
“The worst thing you can do is make me mad, because I just go crazy on the court when you rile me up.” Wahinekapu said. “I just didn’t care about anything. I just went out and played my game, and I scored a lot and we won, and it was a very important game.”
As a teammate the Hawaiian point guard is a role model for her younger counterparts.
“She just never gives up, on and off the floor she is a great leader. She is quiet but shows her leadership through her actions by playing hard, always being on time, lifting hard.” said her apparent successor, freshman back-up point guard Kailey Bostwick. “I have been watching Sharon play, I love the way she can take care of the ball dribble and stuff. Watching her during the games and watching her composure. I look up to her and she is also just helping me know what I have to do to make our team successful.”
This is Wahinekapu’s last year as a basketball player and an undergraduate. Her aspirations are to continue working at PSU to get a master’s degree in psychology and she eventually plans on being a family therapist in Portland. She will be sorely missed by some of her teammates, especially junior guard/forward Heather Arns, who loves having her on the court.
“Sharon means everything to the team, I think that out of any point guard that we’ve had here at Portland State over the past three years since I’ve been here, I think Sharon’s the one that has actually been able to lead the team by example.” Arns said with a smile.