For three seasons, Maria Carrillo senior Alyiah Shields stood on the sideline with a clipboard.
Shields would take stats for the Pumas’ girls soccer team; she’d gather balls, sometimes she’d chime in about what she was seeing on the field. But she never played a minute. And we should all feel ripped off about it.
Because when she’s on the field today, she’s a joy to watch.
“She is definitely a game-changer,” senior teammate Brianna Van Giesen said. “She definitely has a presence on the field.”
But for years, that presence was missed.
“Going into high school, before I got injured, I planned on playing all four years,” Shields said.
Shields has had uncommonly bad luck.
In the summer after her eighth-grade year, she was playing with her club team when she tore the ACL in her left knee. Twelve months of rehab followed.
Two months after she started playing again, she was in San Diego playing in a tournament when she went into a tackle and came away with a torn right ACL.
Nobody would blame Shields if she felt a little bit bitter. After all, three years of playing for the Pumas was taken from her and she was sidelined for a good portion of her club career as well.
But thanks to the gift of time and perspective, that’s not the way Shields looks at it.
“It’s definitely one of the best experiences I have ever had,” she said. “I have grown so much. I’m a better player now.”
Those seasons Shields was hanging around the Pumas’ practices with a clipboard and shagging balls, she wasn’t killing time. She was using it. Those months of rehab apart from her club team, she was learning how to make her body stronger for the long haul.
“I watched a lot of soccer,” she said. “I definitely have better vision now, I understand the game better.”
And she knows that it took more than physical rehab to get back on the field. She has honed her mental game, too.
“You can’t play scared. That’s when you get injured,” she said. “You have to be tough. You have to understand you are going to be fine.”
Shields is going to be fine and she knows it. Because while she loves the game just as much as ever, she has endured long stretches without it and knows there is more to life than game day.
This is a player who, for a stretch, was commuting to the South Bay three times a week, just to practice with her club team. Soccer is no joke to her.
But when it was taken away, she had some thinking to do.
“I gained a lot of knowledge from those experiences,” she said. “I realized that it’s not all about soccer. I figured out where I want to be and what I want to do.”
And happily for the rest of us, soccer is part of that plan.
Shields is playing center midfield for the Pumas this season and next season is headed to UCLA to play for a Bruins squad that was runner-up to Stanford in the national championship. She plans to study kinesiology.
Pumas head coach Debra LaPrath is thankful to have Shields for however many games she can get her.