AHS leading scorer, Aundi Kustura, prepares to throw the ball into a new court after graduating collegeTACOMA, Wash. - The body has a bit more wear and tear on it after nearly four years of college basketball, but the spirit, desire and intensity still burn within Aundi Kustura, as much as they ever did.

It's hard to believe it's gone by so fast, but the collegiate career is drawing to a close for the all-time scoring leader in Astoria history, as Pacific Lutheran heads into the home stretch of the 2004-05 season.

Tied for first place with a 5-1 record in the Northwest Conference, the Lutes have a good chance of extending their season into the playoffs - familiar territory for head coach Gil Rigell's teams.

PLU is seeking its seventh straight 20-win season and a return trip to the NCAA Division III tournament.

Whenever and wherever it comes to a close, the end of the season for PLU will also spell the end to another chapter in Kustura's playing career.

"It has flown by," said Kustura, a 2001 Astoria High School graduate. "I can't believe it's gone so fast.

"I've learned a lot being in college," she said, following a narrow loss at George Fox last weekend, which snapped PLU's five-game win streak. "Tonight was a frustrating one, so I probably didn't highlight the things that I've learned, but there's a lot of character that's been built."

Basketball aside, Kustura will be graduating in May with a degree in business and a minor in sociology. "Then I'll probably take at least a year off and then look into law school," she said.

Kustura will undoubtedly see a few less bumps and bruises in law school than she does now. Kustura has been nursing a sore right ankle lately - just part of the game, especially if you've ever seen Kustura play.

She aggravated the ankle, not once, but twice in the loss at George Fox Saturday, after injuring it the night before in a 79-78, triple overtime win at Linfield.

"I tweaked my ankle at Linfield, then I tweaked it in the first half tonight," Kustura said after the loss to the Bruins. "It's just weak. I probably should have had it taped. It hurts, but it heals real quick if you take care of it. I'll be fine - I'm used to injuries at this point."

The Lutes return to action Friday at Puget Sound, followed by a home game vs. Lewis & Clark Saturday.

Pacific Lutheran has had plenty of success under Rigell, the eighth-year coach, and hopes to ride the momentum wave to another Elite Eight appearance in the tournament, where PLU played just three years ago.

Only time will tell how good this Lutes team will be.

"It's hard to say," Kustura said. "This is definitely the youngest team they've had since I've been here.

"My freshman year we went to the Elite Eight in the national tournament; my sophomore year we made it to the Sweet 16, and we went on a 12-game winning streak last year. Who's to say? Every year has had its own highlight."

The only thing holding PLU back this year may be its youth. Kustura is the only senior on a squad with six freshmen, five sophomores and two juniors.

"We're real young this year, and we have to play more experienced than we are," said Kustura, who has really had to put her leadership skills to use, this year and last.

"Especially my junior and senior year - I'm in much more of a leadership role," she said. "This is my third year as a team captain, so I've always been in a leadership role, but being the only senior, there's some unique things with that."

Through it all, Kustura has managed to up her scoring average every season, from 5.3 points per game as a freshman, to 7.7 as a sophomore, 10.8 last year and 12.9 this season. She's also fourth on the team in rebounds, third in assists and third in steals - not that she pays attention to the numbers.

"I try not to watch the stats too closely, but it's been decent," Kustura said of her senior season, which is now past the halfway point. "I think I'm averaging 12 or 13 points depending on the kind of weekend I had."

Kustura, named honorable mention all-conference and given the teams' Co-Most Inspirational Award last year, has split time at point guard and off-guard at PLU.

"I'm only a two-guard right now, instead of playing point guard," she said. "The only time I play point is when we really need it, usually when we see a zone defense."

The Cowapa League MVP in 2001 and Astoria's Most Inspirational in 1999 and 2000, Kustura has certainly paid her dues to become the best player she can be, and for the last eight years she can be rest assured that she's given the fans in Astoria and Tacoma quite a ride.

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