By BRETT MARSHALL
MANHATTAN Bramlage Coliseum has been the site of many of Shalee Lehning's most memorable sporting achievements.
It was there, the home of Kansas State University basketball, where she sat on the bench as a precocious 8-year-old ball girl for the Sublette Lady Larks during the state basketball tournament.
Nearly a decade later, it was at Bramlage where she led the Lady Larks to consecutive unbeaten Class 2A state basketball championships in 2004-05.
It was Bramlage where she played her first NCAA Division I basketball game as a member of the Kansas State Lady Wildcats in November of 2005.
Bramlage was the site of many unforgettable games played by the former Sublette prep standout, and it is the place where her No. 5 jersey proudly hangs from the rafters, an event that transpired in early March of 2009 during her senior season at KSU. She earned All-American honors while playing for the Lady Wildcats.
Saturday, though, proved to be one more momentous event in the life of the now 26-year-old Lehning, arguably the best high school athlete to come from southwest Kansas.
Lehning was honored with an induction ceremony into the Kansas State High School Activities Association Hall of Fame Class of 2013 during halftime of the KSU-KU women's basketball game.
It was a slight distraction for Lehning, who is now in her third full season as an assistant coach for the Lady Wildcats. But, a distraction that she didn't mind at all. The ceremony came in the middle of what was eventually an 89-80 Kansas double-overtime victory against K-State.
"It's just such a great honor," Lehning said in an interview after she had watched her current Lady Wildcats battle fiercely with only seven players suited up, only to lose in double overtime. "What a privilege to be recognized with so many of the great Kansas athletes that have come through the years. I just appreciate it being able to be here at Kansas State and around the people I love and the people I am spending my time with."
Nearly 7,000 fans showed up, not only to watch the Sunflower Showdown, but to show their support and affection for one of the great players in KSU history, and arguably one of the best overall athletes to grace the competitive sports scene in Kansas high school annals.
A video that was produced by Kansas State showed numerous highlights of Lehning's career, and all the former Sublette standout could do was look up with a sense of wonderment.
"It was fun to remember those moments," Lehning said. "There were so many people from Sublette. I'm just grateful to those who made the trip and to be part of this special day for me. It really means a lot to me."
Lehning has never forgotten her roots in the tiny southwest Kansas community of 1,500 people.
"I just love Sublette," Lehning said with a big smile on her face. "It's just unbelievable support. So often small towns get overlooked for certain things. If there is one thing that small towns do is that they're unbelievably supportive, loyal and committed."
Included in the group of her hometown supporters were the entire Lady Larks basketball team and current coach/athletic director Monty Marlin, assistant coach Paul Trigg and several others from the Class 2A school.
"It brought a smile to my face when I heard they were bringing the whole team," Lehning said. "Because we are a family, we are a community. Every person in the stands has a memory with me at some point. It's just such unbelievably great support."
A reception in Lehning's honor was held in the Legends Room at Bramlage after the game's conclusion, and the former Lady Lark star took her minions on a tour of the new basketball facility that sits next to Bramlage.
"I'm happy that Monty was able to do that and show the kids these are the things that are possible, even from a small town of Sublette, Kansas," Lehning said.
Lehning's current role as assistant coach for the Lady Wildcats focuses primarily on recruiting, putting her on the road to all corners of the United States, and countless hours on the phone and watching film of prospects.
"I miss all kinds of practices," Lehning said. "Every day I'm on the phone with AAU coaches, or high school kids. I still practice against the girls when I'm here. I still kind of get out there and lace the shoes up, so that feels good. It feels good to be involved on the basketball side of things when I'm around."
Lehning's KSU career ended in 2009, and she then spent three seasons with the WNBA's Atlanta Dream after being the No. 25 draft selection that same year. Two injuries, one to her shoulder and the other an ACL tear, forced her to retire after the 2011 knee injury.
"It's amazing the things that I've been through," Lehning said in reflection of her career. "The last few years, your perspective changes. When my jersey was retired, I was so young that I didn't realize what I was accomplishing then, either. Now, after a knee injury, getting a little bit older, you realize the blessing that you have in life. So I look at things differently now than I did as a 23-year-old kid. The moments, winning championships. Those are the things when I see that, and I just appreciate all those people."
Lehning said she remains close to her high school teammates from those glory days of 2004-05 when the team won 52 consecutive games and captured two state titles.
"Whitney (Stevens), Shelby (Griffin) and all the others have all reached out," Lehning said. "They've been unbelievably supportive, as always. Really, I am nothing without them. It all started with them many years ago. I am so grateful for their friendship, and most importantly, all the fun times we had."
Lehning said she loves living in Manhattan, and as a result of her commitment to the program and university, purchased a home last summer.
"I've laid some roots here and I'm very excited," Lehning said. "Kansas State has a special place in my heart. It started at a very young age. We bled purple. This place has been very good to me. It's definitely a place that I've now called home. Manhattan can't quite get rid of me."
Lastly, there was Lehning's family in attendance father Steve, mother Jane, sister Andrea, who had two daughters and a son along, as well. The only missing Lehning was brother Matt, who could not make it from Wyoming due to weather conditions and a family health situation.
"I know my brother was disappointed he couldn't make it, but I know he was here," Lehning said of Matt. "My family was supportive as always. They're in the stands with smiles on their faces. It means just so much to me."
The Lehning legacy
Basketball Led Sublette's Lady Larks to Class 2A state championships in 2004-05 with consecutive 26-0 records. Was 2005 Miss Kansas Basketball and Gatorade Player of the Year.Ranks fourth in Kansas prep history with 2,510 career points. Is the all-time leading rebounder (1,336), assists (804) and steals (536). Was a four-time Garden City Telegram All-Area selection, the only player with such an accomplishment.
Track and Field A seven-time gold medalist at the state track and field championship, winning 2 golds in the javelin, 100- and 300-meter hurdle events. She holds the state 2A record in the javelin with a throw of 147 feet, 5 inches.
Volleyball In her senior season, helped lead the Lady Larks to the 2A state championship match.
Academics Was a four-year honor roll student at Sublette High School; and was class president all four years.