College basketball is not sport for the weak-minded, but a competition of able bodies and second-by-second strategies.
The Seawolves have a secret weapon, a player whose mental toughness causes people to follow her without question into even the toughest games.
“She has a dynamic personality, and people naturally follow her,” UAA head coach Tim Moser said.
That on-court dynamo is Kalhie Quinones, a basketball player who is no stranger to competition and rough play. In her first season at a UAA, the 5-foot-7-inch senior guard has started in every game. Quinones also leads the Seawolves in assists and steals this season. To top it all off, she has a 43 percent shooting average, and she pulls down an average of 4.5 rebounds per game.
But it’s more than numbers that define Quinones as an athlete. It is a lifestyle that reflects itself both off and on the court.
Head start, rough beginnings
The youngest of four children, each close in age and fiercely competitive with one another, Quinones developed a passion for sports.
Raised in Loveland, Colo., by an athletic father who coached her and her siblings, and a competitive mother, Quinones was bound to be an athlete.
Quinones started early with her athletic career, jumping into the sport while in the third grade.
“I picked up a basketball and never put it down,” Quinones said.
From fourth grade to middle school she traveled and competed in track during the summertime, competing in the long jump, high jump and other running events, with her father coaching her. Her track career took her to nationals in Denver one year and continued into high school.
Although she also dabbled in swimming and soccer throughout middle and high school, Quinones has always ended up on the court. She played basketball in all four years of high school, three of them at Loveland High, where her two sisters and brother had gone to school.
During one season at Loveland, she broke her tibia. Trainers incorrectly diagnosed the break as shin splints, and Quinones continued to play throughout the season. Later, when she and her family went to the doctor for it, they were told there was a tumor present that could be cancerous. A second opinion from the Denver Nuggets medical trainer was far more reassuring: The “tumor” turned out to be a calcium deposit where the bone was trying to heal, and there was no cancer.
With that taken care of, Quinones continued in basketball, but when most of her team at Loveland quit because of a lack of dedication, she transferred to Thompson Valley High School, Loveland’s rival.
At first she received some heckling from the girls whom she had spent a majority of her basketball career competing against, but her ultimate goal was to be adaptable and focused on the game.
After graduating in 2001 from Thompson Valley High School, Quinones decided to continue her studies at Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colo.
Success at a higher level
At Otero she trained under the familiar leadership of current UAA women’s head coach Moser. Moser was also coaching the men’s basketball team at the time when Quinones’ older brother had played.
Quinones played for Moser all of the 2001-2002 season and began the 2002-2003 season but could not finish it when she tore a meniscus in her knee. The injury required surgery to repair it, forcing Quinones to sit out the rest of the season.
She was healed and back in action by the beginning of the next year, when the team completed a successful season, ending 25-4. She finished at Otero as the ninth leading scorer in the school history, having racked up 629 points in the two-and-a-half seasons she played.
From Otero she moved to Utah to finish her degree in computer sciences at Utah State University. Quinones was a starter for 21 out of 28 games during the 2004-2005 season at the Division I school. She even traveled with them to play in Australia, against the women’s basketball Junior Olympics team in a tournament.
After her first year at Utah State, however, she felt in her heart that she needed to be home to help her family get through some tough times. Her grandfather had fallen ill and was in the hospital, not doing well.
So Quinones packed up her belongings and drove home. She got a job and lived on her own, supporting her family emotionally. When her grandfather passed away, she started analyzing how much she was putting into each day.
But soon after his death, another tragedy struck when her 12-year-old cousin suddenly passed away.
“Having my grandpa pass away and then having my cousin, who’s literally a baby, pass away, it really flashes before your eyes how many things she didn’t get to do in her time here. For the first time I think I really appreciated the life that I was given,” Quinones said, “It makes you tougher and makes you stronger. It’s really how you take it and how you use it.”
North to Alaska
While she was still in Colorado, UAA’s graduate assistant coach Angela Lessard, with whom Quinones had played while at Otero, called her with a question: How would she like to come play basketball in Alaska?
Quinones didn’t know that her former coach at Otero had become the head coach at UAA, and wanted her to play for him.
When Quinones found out Moser wanted her on the team, she was ecstatic.
“I just started crying, I was just so happy,” Quinones said.
Her parents supported her move to Alaska, encouraging her to keep furthering her education and basketball career.
“You have a whole world ahead of you,” her mother, Angie, said. “It’s good for kids to get out and experience that.”
Quinones moved to Alaska and, after sitting out a season because of transfer regulations, began playing her senior year.
When Quinones made the transfer to UAA, she was fortunate enough to be able to switch from a computer science major to a history major without losing too many credits. When she completes her degree, she would like to travel, possibly to study overseas and one day even teach and coach a basketball team.
For now, though, Quinones is perfectly content leading her teammates on and off the floor.
“She’s a big ball of energy,” said Nikki Aden, Quinones’ roommate and teammate. “She comes in with jokes and funny stories, and if you’re doing something stupid you can always count on Kalhie recording you with her phone. She’s like the older sister I never had. If you ever have problems or need to get something off your chest, she’s a good person to go to; she has a lot of insight. Especially in basketball.”
Even her longtime coach realizes her leadership qualities, not just on the court.
“She has started to realize that she doesn’t have to pick and choose what she can win at,” Moser said. “She can win at everything both on and off the court.”