The fingernails give it away.
Standing on the soccer field at Santa Rosa High School with one foot propped up on a ball, Alyiah Shields’ fingernails are long, painted and manicured. She will not be playing soccer today.
Or tomorrow. Or the next day.
When and if Shields, 18, plays soccer again is a question no one is ready to answer. Not even Shields.
One year ago, Shields was arguably the best high school soccer player in the North Bay. Having battled back from two torn anterior cruciate ligaments since the eighth grade, she was finally suiting up for the Maria Carrillo High School Pumas for her senior season.
But her one season with the Pumas felt almost like a bonus. A standout on her various club teams, Shields was already booked to play soccer at UCLA in the fall of 2018.
Last February, the official Twitter account of UCLA women’s soccer announced: “We’re excited to welcome midfielder Alyiah Shields to Westwood for the 2018 season!”
Ten days after that tweet, the Pumas were playing in the North Coast Section quarterfinal game against Northgate High when Shields heard an all-too-familiar pop.
“I felt it and I knew something was wrong,” she said. “But I was like, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.’”
But she wasn’t fine. Shields had torn her ACL for the third time in four years.
It took a couple of days to confirm the injury. But after the Pumas won the Division 2 NCS title, Shields was on the field and tearfully told her teammates she wouldn’t be back as they advanced to the NorCal tournament.
“It was really a sisterhood moment,” she said. “It’s that connection. You have your friends, but then you have your teammates. It’s like totally different because that turns more into family.”
Shields called UCLA and talked over her surgery schedule. Her family wanted to wait until school was out for spring break — the first week in April — before having surgery and starting rehab. The family said there was some pressure from team officials to get it done sooner.
It all weighed heavily on Alyiah.
“I decided I didn’t want to go,” she said. “It was a really hard decision, but I feel like it was the right one.”
Two weeks to the day after she blew out her knee, Shields was driving a friend home from breakfast at a local restaurant. Making her way through the rain, she had just turned from Farmers Lane in Santa Rosa and was eastbound on Highway 12 when her car began to hydroplane. She remembers another car slamming into her driver’s side door and emergency crews working to extricate her, but not much else.
Alyiah’s parents, Julia and Chris, were running errands that morning.
“I remember seeing the Nixle alert on my phone,” Julia Shields said. “It was ‘Highway 12, serious accident.’”
They were walking in the door at home when Alyiah Shields’ friend, the one who had been with her in the car, called.
“Your stomach drops out,” Chris Shields said.
Shields had multiple fractures in her pelvis, a ruptured bladder, a ruptured ovary and a fractured face.
The day after the accident, in the ICU at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, she turned 18.