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Junior point guard leads the Bruins in a hot start to the season, punctuated by an eight-game win streak.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Barlow junior Kennedie Shuler is leading her team into a 2022 season filled with postseason dreams. Last season, Barlow girls basketball's star point guard Kennedie Shuler found herself in unchartered waters — sitting on the bench with an injury.

Shuler is a competitor, fiercely diving into each game with calculated abandon. She lives and breathes basketball, bringing meaning to the idea of leaving it all out on the court. So having to spend the first half of her sophomore year on the sidelines after a high-ankle sprain and tightrope surgery — the same procedure used on former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa — during an already pandemic-shortened season seemed almost unbearable.

But that injury ultimately turned a talented player into a truly special one.

"It was tough not being able to play, but I learned a lot," Shuler said. "Running a team on the court with my play is my thing, so I had to learn to be a leader while on the bench."

She gained a new perspective on the game she loves. Being on the bench allowed her to analyze plays, and she was constantly in the ear of head coach Nick Hudson, strategizing during games. She had to come up with strategic solutions to problems, rather than rely on her skills and blistering pace with the ball.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - This Barlow girls basketball team plays hard on both ends of the court. "Kennedie has always been a player willing to do whatever the team needs to be successful, so I knew she would keep making an impact during the injury," Hudson said.

One of the most challenging parts of the injury for her coach was finding ways to keep her from rushing back onto the court.

"We wanted to make sure she was healthy, and there were a lot of chats with Kennedie and her parents," Hudson said. "But when she got the green light, she was ready."

Her return last season was for a 64-58 revenge rematch against Clackamas. Even with limited minutes, she burst out of the gates.

"There were nerves stepping back out onto the court for the first time, but all that fear melted away with the first whistle," she said, finishing with eight points (3-6 shooting with two 3-pointers), four assists and three rebounds in her return.

PMG FILE PHOTO - The highlight for Kennedie Shuler this year was an upset win over No. 1 Clackamas. All of that turmoil in 2020 has led to what Shuler is now doing on the court. The 16-year-old is taking the Mt. Hood Conference by storm in her junior year, as the No. 4 Bruins (11-2, 3-0 League) have strung together an eight-game winning streak, knocked off the top 6A team in the state and sit atop the league standings.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Kennedie Shuler has been leading the Bruins since her freshman year. "This season is going well, I am super proud of how the team is playing," Shuler said. "It's been fun, a lot of us have been playing together since the second grade."

Much of that has been because of Shuler, who has improved in every facet of the game. She is averaging 17 points (52.0 FG%) and seven rebounds while playing stout defense and continuing to be a vocal leader.

"Kennedie is a great athlete and great competitor," said Hudson, who is in his fourth year helming the Bruins. "She is willing to go out, compete and work for every win."

The highlight so far, Shuler said, was the latest bout with Clackamas. Earlier this month Barlow upset the then-No. 1 Cavaliers 50-44 to open league play. Shuler notched a game-high 27 points and added eight rebounds. She also made an impact from the free throw line, shooting 7-10 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter.

"It's big when we have lulls on offense, like the second half against Clackamas, that she can get to the line," Hudson said.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Barlow head coach Nick Hudson said this is a special group of players. As a team Barlow was able to hold onto the victory despite a ferocious comeback from the Cavaliers and the Bruins not scoring from the field in that final quarter.

"Clackamas is a good team, so it was rewarding to get that win," Shuler said.

With that kind of up-in-lights victory — and how talented this team has looked on the court — has come the inevitable chatter about how far this group of Bruins could go. Hudson said he has cautioned his players about zoning out the "noise" and staying focused on each game, no matter who they are facing.

And while Shuler has lofty goals for herself — a state championship, player of the year honors, first team all-state — she is mainly just having fun. Perhaps because of that injury, or the looming threat of cancellations with the pandemic, she is excited to play basketball.

"I only have one more year left with Barlow after this, so I don't take any game for granted," she said.

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