Sept. 26, 2016
Mikayla Shields may be a freshman, but she knows a lot about success. The rookie on the South Carolina volleyball team has started every match so far this year and has enjoyed plenty of success on the court as well as in the classroom. While she has worked hard for everything she has achieved, having two parents who excelled in and out of sports has certainly helped shape her into what she has become on and off the court.
“Like any parents, they want their children to be better than they were and to have success,” Shields said. “They always pushed me to be the best that I can be. They always said that they didn’t want me to look back on my career and think that there was something I could have done better. So in that sense, there was a little bit of pressure because they knew how good I could be.”
“She is a special player,” said South Carolina head coach Scott Swanson. “She is confident in what she is doing on the floor. She was certainly born with a lot of athletic ability. Both of her parents were elite level athletes, and having grown up around that certainly helped back up her mindset.”
The Orlando, Fla., native is the daughter of Brett and Najuma (Fletcher) Shields who made names for themselves in the track and field arena at the University of Pittsburgh and beyond. Brett is part of the school record-holding sprint hurdle relay team, while her mother, Najuma, is the first-ever Pitt female athlete to win an NCAA track and field individual championship. She competed for her homeland of Guyana in the 1992 Olympics and was also the Big East Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 1996. Both went on to successful coaching careers as well. Although Mikayla did compete in track in high school, she didn’t feel like she had to follow in the exact footsteps of her parents.
“I knew volleyball was my sport,” Shields said. “I’m really lucky in that my parents allowed me to explore whatever I wanted to do. I tried everything from ballet to gymnastics, swimming, basketball, volleyball and every sport in between. Once I got into middle school, I really loved volleyball. My parents loved track, and they dedicated so many hours to that. Volleyball was that sport for me.”
Brett and Najuma raised Mikayla to be a well-rounded individual. She not only led her high school team to a region championship, but also earned the AP Scholar Award for academics.
“In my household, ‘Cs’ are not acceptable,” Shields laughed. “Academics always came first with my parents. If we were not up on our schoolwork, sports weren’t going to happen. That was a big motivator for me. It’s also become a guideline for me because now that I am on my own in college, I have a goal for myself. In order to meet that standard, I have to place academics before sports or my social life sometimes. So now I put that pressure on myself to be as good as I can be in all things.”
Once you’re an adult, you have to make your own name. So I’m making my own way.Mikayla Shields
Shields leads South Carolina in several statistical categories, and she is also diving right in to her academic work as she is a pre-med/biology major with plans of becoming an obstetrician/gynecologist.
“I always knew I wanted to do something in the medical field,” Shields said. “As I started getting older, I started researching it. I thought it was one of the happiest units in the medical field. I loved the idea that I could help bring life into the world.”
Shields has already brought a lot of life into the Gamecock volleyball program, and while she remains humble, she was confident that she would have a chance to make an impact.
“I knew that my (signing) class was going to be an important one,” Shields said. “Coach Scott was always talking about how he is building the program, and I wanted to be a part of what his vision is. Maybe I didn’t think I would have an immediate impact, but I thought I could make an impact that would be long lasting.
“There are so many things I love about being a Gamecock. When I first walked in here, I felt like this was a home. This is a place where I could lay my head down and be comfortable. The fans are awesome. The student-athletes from the other sports come and watch us, and we go and watch them.”
Shields first fell in love with South Carolina after attending an elite volleyball camp at the school.
“I just thought the campus was so cool, and the coaches and players were the kind of people I wanted to be around,” Shields recalled. “The family-feel that we have here is awesome, and I felt that from the very first time I stepped on the court here.”
“We do have a family oriented culture here,” Swanson said. “When people come and visit, they feel that sense of welcome and safety. They know that we are going to take care of their daughters. We’re going to help them put academics first as we try to mold them into elite collegiate athletes.”
Growing up, Shields enjoyed seeing how her parents were humble even as they were constantly recognized and held in high regard in the track and field community.
“My parents are awesome,” Shields said.” There are so many lessons I’ve learned from them. They taught me to always remember where I came from and to always work hard because if you don’t, someone else will be doing more than you. I don’t want to ever look back and think I could have done a little more to get that scholarship, or that NCAA title, or that Olympic spot. So to be great, I have to make the effort to be great. That translates into sports, academics and whatever else is thrown my way.
“My parents have done all they can for me and they continue to do that. I know it’s up to me to do it though. Once you’re an adult, you have to make your own name. So I’m making my own way.”