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Peanut Tuitele grateful for CU Buffs career

Senior has started 86 of her 102 career games

BOULDER, CO - Oct. 19, 2021: ...
Peanut Tuitele does a promotional video during media day for University of Colorado Boulder’s women’s basketball on October 19, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

As a senior, Colorado women’s basketball forward Sirena “Peanut” Tuitele has taken time to reminisce lately about her time in Boulder.

In particular, she’s had conversations with guard Sila Finau, her roommate and close friend, about their four years together.

“Wow, look how much we’ve grown and matured throughout these four years being here,” Tuitele has said to Finau.

As Tuitele recalled some of those conversations this week, she paused and wiped a tear from her eye.

“Sorry,” she said. “I’m getting teary-eyed. It’s just crazy to think about.”

Dec. 17, 2021- University of Colorado ...
University of Colorado Boulder’s Peanut Tuitele goes up on Southern Methodist’s Paige Baylis during the December 17, 2021 game in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

It doesn’t seem long ago that Tuitele came to CU as a freshman in the summer of 2018 after starring at Pleasant Valley High School in Chico, Calf.

Now, with graduation coming up this spring, the 6-foot-1 forward who celebrated her 22nd birthday on Thursday is trying to help the Buffaloes (16-7, 5-7 Pac-12) reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nine years.

“I wouldn’t say previous teams (at CU) were capable of going to the Tournament,” Tuitele said. “With this team, I’m 100%. I believe in it.”

CU is currently projected by ESPN as an NCAA Tournament team. With four regular season games and the Pac-12 Tournament on the horizon, the Buffs likely need a few wins to secure a spot.

Getting to the Tournament will change Tuitele’s career resume at CU, but it won’t define her life-changing time in Boulder.

“I did not know what I was expecting from the college life, but coming to Boulder, it was really nice because they welcomed me into this place as a second home,” Tuitele said. “They allowed me to be who I want to be and express myself. I’m forever grateful and thankful for especially the Buff nation, who continues to support us and supported me in my four years. They’ve probably seen a lot of growth off the court from me.”

Tuitele has been a significant part of the Buffs’ rotation from the start on the court.

She has started 86 of her 102 career games, averaging 7.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Her field goal percent of .490 ranks among the top 15 in CU history.

Throughout it all, Tuitele has dealt with numerous physical ailments. Some injuries caused her to miss games, but she has played through a lot of pain.

“I haven’t really had a healthy season here,” she said. “(Trainers) Chris Miller and Adam Ringler have done a wonderful job of making sure that my body’s up to par, that I can play. … I went through some injuries and got hurt here and there, but it’s part of the game.

“I can get annoying to (Miller), but I just personally want to thank him and Adam, especially, for my process of getting my body right because I don’t think I’d have the body I have without Chris and Adam.”

While it hasn’t been easy, Tuitele said she’s thankful for the adversity because, “It shows me how mentally strong I am and my will.”

It’s also forced her to change her diet and she is leaner and in better shape than ever. Through much of her trials, she’s had her team on her mind.

BOULDER, CO - Oct. 19, 2021: ...
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Peanut Tuitele, left, Sophia Gerber, and Lesila Finau, watch video they shot during media day for University of Colorado Boulder’s women’s basketball on October 19, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

“I will do anything for this team,” she said. “Whether I’m hurt or not, I’m going to play through it, because I put them on my back. As a senior, I want to finish strong, and I want to set an example for them to be strong. Although there’s gonna be bumps and bruises throughout your collegiate career, you need to be strong mentally, because it’s going to translate to the real world. And we’re women, so it just empowers them. I want them to be empowered by me and other seniors and other people.”

More so than the outcome of the CU’s remaining games, that attitude is what will define Tuitele’s career with the Buffaloes.

“I think Peanut is just a prime indicator of everything that we have wanted to be about since the minute we recruited her and started talking about building a great culture of selflessness and hard work and toughness,” CU head coach JR Payne said. “She epitomizes those things and has grown into someone that really embodies those things and works hard, has sacrificed for the team over the years to make herself a better player, in order to help her teammates be better. She’s everything you want a Buff to be.”

With her senior season nearing the end, Tuitele isn’t sure where she’ll be in a year. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she has an extra year of eligibility and said she will take advantage of that. However, that may or may not be at CU, and the decision isn’t completely in her hands.

If her CU career gets extended a year or ends this spring, Tuitele will never forget her time in Boulder.

“I’m gonna do my job here until the last moment I’m with this team, because I did sign up for a job, and I’m gonna complete it while I’m here,” she said. “These four years have been the greatest years of my life and I’ve learned a lot about myself, about the outside world, the importance of being who you are. I haven’t taken any of these years for granted and I’m super thankful for especially the coaching staff who gave me this opportunity.

“A lot of it wouldn’t happen if the coaches didn’t believe in me. … They took me in, someone they saw as family and they nurtured me and helped me throughout this process and they’ve helped me become the woman I am today. How strong I am today is because of them.”

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