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Finding Ohana in Boulder

Feb 22, 2022

Please note that the University of Colorado is still requiring masks to be worn at all indoor athletic events on campus

BOULDER – Four years ago a group of five freshmen began a journey together with the Colorado women's basketball team in Boulder. 

Today, only two remain and the bond they share is undeniable. 

Seniors Lesila Finau and Peanut Tuitele started this journey together in 2018 and the two will play their final home games at the CU Events Center this week, starting with the Oregon Ducks on Wednesday (7 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Networks). 

The two players both from Polynesian backgrounds and separated by three hours of highway in California became quickly acquainted in the team's summer workouts leading up to the Buffs' foreign tour to Italy in the summer of 2018.

The pair roomed together for summer workouts and have pretty much been inseparable since. 

"She's been my ride or die since day one," Tuitele said of Finau. 

On the court, the duo got thrown into action early, both getting double-digit starts in their rookie seasons. Finau got the nod in 13 of the final 15 games, taking over for an injured Kennedy Leonard. Tuitele took over a starting role just six games into her career. 

"I did not know what to expect [as a freshman]," Tuitele recalled. "When I did come in, I was like, 'Oh man, I need to get everything together.' It was a different ballgame."

"It was definitely different," Finau agreed. "The competition is better, and I didn't realize how much work needed to get put in to become of the best, especially in this conference. It was inspiring [the talent in the conference] and it made me want to be better."

The two player's paths began to deviate in the coming seasons. Tuitele early on cemented herself as a consistent post-player and a vocal leader for the Buffs. While at the same time, Finau was in a mix of guards in a guard-heavy roster, vying for opportunities and playing time.   

"I've always believed in myself since I stepped on campus," Tuitele noted. "I knew my role coming in and I don't think it's changed. I'm glad the coaches have appreciated the work I've put in throughout these four years. I knew who I was as a basketball player and what I could do."

Head coach JR Payne has had a front-row seat for four years and has watched the evolution of the two women every step of the way.

"I put more stock in doing everything you can to help the team be successful," Payne commented. "I think both of them epitomize that. Peanut has just been rock solid but really developed off the court with her leadership and ability to lead by example. 

"Sila's been the ultimate 'I'll do whatever the team needs me to do' player." Payne continued. "When she was a freshman and Kennedy went out she had to fill the role of playing 30 plus minutes a night a point guard, which is very difficult to do. She has honestly done whatever the team needed her to do at that moment and that's not easy to do but she's done it very well. She's at a place now where she's just doing great at everything."

That 'do whatever' attitude has helped establish Finau's identity on and off the court.

"It has been difficult," Finau recalled. "I think what I've experienced throughout each year has made me the person and player that I am today. It has made me want to lead this team and have an impact on its future. I think it's helped me a lot."

The perseverance that Finau has displayed has not gone unnoticed by her teammates, especially Tuitele. 

"I've seen tremendous growth from her. I can't imagine the adversity that she's been through, going from different position every year. It's unpredictable and she fought through it and she's the leader she is now. A lot of people look up to her. I look up to her because it is a difficult journey that she's been through. She's made the best of it and has never complained. She took it to heart and she's the leader she is today because of that adversity. I wouldn't want anyone else by my side."

Tuitele has never shied away from being a vocal presence for the Buffs. She stepped into that role early in her CU tenure, even while sharing the floor with more experienced leaders like Mya Hollingshed

"She's been that vocal presence from the jump," Finau admired. "Each year she continues to grow and because of that everyone has respect for her. It's something everyone looks up to and hopes to be. I think I got that from her because I didn't have that vocal presence as a freshman. Not even as a sophomore, but I think that's what got me to step up."

The ink hasn't settled on yet on the final chapter, but with time winding down the two have plenty to appreciate. 

"Each year feels like it has gone by so slow," Finau joked. "But now we're seniors about to go into March. Just enjoy the moment. Enjoy the people that you encountered. Not everyone gets this opportunity."

"Just live in the moment," Tuitele further explained. "I've enjoyed every moment since I've been here and I'm going to enjoy all my time left as a Buff."