Shalee Lehning Born: October 27, 1986 (Liberal, KS)
Graduated: Sublette High School, 2005; Kansas State University, 2009
As the banner rose above the floor of Bramlage Coliseum with the Kansas State University Alma Mater playing in the background, she couldn’t hold back the smile. The white banner bore her name and her number so that generations of future Wildcat fans would forever remember her accomplishments in Manhattan. Of course, by taking a look at her accomplishments, it hardly would take a banner hanging from the rafters for sports fans in the state of Kansas to remember the career of Shalee Lehning.
By the time Lehning set foot on campus in Manhattan, to many, she was already a household name. A native of Sublette, Kansas, Lehning’s remarkable high school career put her at or near the top of many state high school records. As a four year starter for the Larks, losing with Lehning on the court was rare. In fact, during her final two high school seasons, Lehning led the Larks to back-to-back undefeated state championships. Leadership like that would become a trademark of Lehning’s character.
While her leadership skills were evident from an early age, she also had the talent to back it up. Looking through the official state high school records kept by the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, legends like Jackie Stiles and Lynette Woodard are easy to spot. And right beside them are the marks put up by the Sublette star Shalee Lehning. A decade after her senior season, Lehning still holds the state high school career records for rebounds with 1,336, assists with 804, and steals with 543. She also holds the single season assist record of 245 she set as a junior.
On the track, Lehning starred as well. In total, Lehning won seven state championships in track, including three state championships in the 100 meter hurdles and two each in the 300 meter hurdles and the javelin.
Her leadership and talent made her a highly sought after recruit and she chose to attend Kansas State University to play for head coach Deb Paterson. Lehning had big shoes to fill entering campus on the heels of the graduation of two of the program’s biggest stars in 2012 Kansas Sports Hall of Fame Inductee Kendra Wecker and 2013 Kansas Sports Hall of Fame Inductee Nicole Ohlde.
In her first few games as a Wildcat, Lehning proved she was up to the monumental task. As a freshman, Lehning led the team in steals, rebounds, and broke the school record for single season assists with 189. She would break her own single season assist record two more times before her graduation. As the season progressed, so did Lehning and she capped off her freshman year with a triple double in the WNIT Championship game against Marquette. Her triple double, the first of five she recorded during her career, was just the eighth time in the history of the Big 12 the feat had been accomplished.
As a sophomore, junior and senior, Lehning once again led the team in assists and steals. She also led the team in rebounding every year twice during that span. During her junior season, Lehning led the Wildcats to a top twenty five national ranking and the school’s second Big 12 Conference title with a conference record of 13-3. The Wildcats also made the NCAA Tournament that year after playing in the WNIT the previous two years.
During her senior campaign, nearly every national, regional, and conference honor went to Shalee Lehning. A first-team All-Big 12 selection, an All-American selection by several publications, a candidate for the Wade Trophy, the Naismith Trophy, the Wooden Award, and the Lieberman Award, Lehning’s accomplishments were recognized throughout the nation. Her school record 229 assists as a senior brought her career total in that category to 800, which ranked second in Big 12 history.
For her K-State career, Lehning’s numbers are staggering. She ranks at or near the top in: career points scored with 1,189, assists with 800, rebounds with 914, and steals with 235. She also holds the school record for career triple-doubles with five, a mark that stands second in Big 12 Conference history. K-State honored Lehning’s career following her final game as a Wildcat by retiring her number #5 jersey and hanging it from the rafters above Bramlage Coliseum.
Lehning was drafted as the twenty-fifth overall pick of the 2009 WNBA Draft by the Atlanta Dream where she played three seasons, including two appearances the WNBA Finals, before a knee injury forced her early retirement from the game. Since her retirement, Lehning has served as an assistant coach at Kansas State University and the University of Northern Colorado.
There is more than one way to become a great leader, whether that is on the field of competition, in the home, in the classroom, or in the office. However, the unselfish attitude and willpower to succeed evidenced by Shalee Lehning transformed her from a basketball player to a leader and role model. Today, similar to her jersey retirement following her final game at K-State, Lehning’s legacy will be further etched on our collective memory as a goal for all generations of future Kansans to strive to achieve.