PORT COQUITLAM — When you’re dropping 38 points in a senior varsity game as an eighth grader, the way Sammy Shields did back in the 2016-17 season, it seems a given that the greatest strength of the Riverside Rapids’ Grade 11 standout guard is her scoring ability.
And while it’s hard to make a case that any other facet of Shield’s skill-set has been more eye-popping than her fluid and graceful offence, perhaps the best way to appreciate her on-court presence is to realize that because she possesses a blend of next-level athleticism and instinct, so many other parts of her game remain in a constant state of growth and evolution.
“I think a lot of people might be surprised for me to say this, but Sammy’s best quality is her passing,” begins veteran Rapids’ coach Paul Langford, whose B.C. Quad-A No. 6-ranked team opens a four -day run Wednesday in Coquitlam at the Centennial Top 10 Shoot-Out against Triple A No. 1 Langley Christian (7:45 p.m.) and its own star guard, SFU-bound senior Makenna Gardner. “If had to do a Top 10 highlight reel of Sammy, I think more than half of it would be passes.”
Last season the 5-foot-8 Shields threaded a pass with blistering precision and timing down court, sending current Fraser Valley Cascades’ freshman Jessica Parker on her way to a breakaway lay-up.
“I just went ‘Holy cow, where did that come from?’” continued Langford of Shields, while acknowledging the fact that the electric infield arm she highlighted over her rep softball career at a third baseman with Ridge Meadows had a lot to do with it. “Sure, she is a great shooter, but she has such great vision and savoir-faire as a passer. That’s what brings me out of my seat.”
The coach brings up her passing to better illustrate the point that while Shields arrived with a presence the very day she first stepped on a senior varsity court four seasons ago, her truest essence as a player lies in the fact that she can add as many layers to her games as she wants.
Ask Shields about the pressurized environment which accompanies a move to the senior varsity level at the same rare age as past greats like Erin Chambers, Louise Forsyth, Tayla Jackson, Lauren Yearwood, Shae Sanchez and Kristina Collins, and she does well to keep everything in perspective.
“After the first couple of games it got way easier and I felt like I fit in,” she begins, before addressing the fact that she doesn’t see herself singularly as a scorer, despite the fact she’s broken into the thirites the past number of games and is averaging 23 ppg thus far on the season. “I don’t think that’s an expectation for me. I play every game as hard as I can and I see what happens. It’s not all about points. I can help my team out with assists as well.”
For the first time in her Riverside career, Sammy Shields can rightly feel like a veteran presence.
And that’s because for the first time, the rest of her age-group teammates in the Rapids’ graduating Class of 2021 have joined her to share their final two seasons of senior varsity together.
All at once, it’s an indication of just how far ahead of the curve she has been throughout a career in which she has been touted since her early elementary-school days.
“The first time I ever heard about Sammy Shields was when someone told me there was a girl in Grade 2 that played like Nayo,” smiles Langford, referencing none other than Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, currently playing for the WNBA’s New York Liberty, but who back in that 2009-10 season was in her sophomore season with the Simon Fraser Clan.
“I laughed and I thought ‘How can a Grade 2 be compared to that,” added Langford. “But about a month-and-a-half later we ran a little thing for kids at Riverside, and when she walked in the gym I said ‘I bet that’s who they are talking about.’ She was shooting threes by Grade 3.”
And while the 6-foot-2 Raincock-Ekunwe has gone on to garner international acclaim for her skill, Shields admits there was a reason she was so drawn to her at such a young age.
“I used to go to Nayo’s games at Simon Fraser, and then I remember walking into Riverside when I was in Grade 2 knowing that she was inspiring me,” says Shields who has played on the star-studded B.C. United club team and also with the B.C. provincial team. “I liked how she played hard and took it strong to the rim each time. I don’t remember a lot, but I do remember that she always played her hardest and that I wanted to be like that.”
Interestingly enough, you look at Shield’s Riverside career in three chapters.
Upon her arrival as a Grade 8, the only senior on the team was Shae Sanchez, now starring at the NCAA Div. 2 level at Oklahoma’s Northeastern State.
Over her Grade 9-10 seasons, Shields was an underclassmen to a core of rising seniors — Parker, Tessa Burton, Alanya Davignon. Adrienne Willems — all of whom graduated last season.
And now, she is at the core of a team which over the next two seasons will see her grow chemistry with the likes of talented 10th graders like Venica Davignon and Brooke Kendal.
“It’s such a different vibe from last season,” says Shields. “I’ve really enjoyed it and this is a phenomenal group of girls. Brook and Venica are like, wow. Amazing. And I think we’re finally starting to come together as a team.”
Very few have hit the ground running as prolific scorers so early in their senior varsity careers, and it’s no stretch to say that by the time her senior season is complete, Shields will be one of the top scorers in B.C. girls high school basketball history.
For his part, Langford doesn’t hesitate putting Shields in rare company over the history of the Riverside girls program.
“She is the best athlete I’ve ever coached,” he says. “And the crazy thing about Sammy is that she can score in bunches and it looks so effortless. It looks like she is gliding and that is just her natural ability.”
Centennial’s Top 10 Shoot-Out runs as a 12-team tournament this season. Wednesday and Thursday will feature pools play, with Friday highlighted by 5:45 and 7:30 p.m. semifinals. Placing games begin 9 a.m. Saturday with the tourney final rounding out the day at 5:45 p.m. Results and updates will be posted on twitter @centaurathletic
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