Mikayla Shields was told the FaceTime call she was scheduled to be on in early May was a follow-up interview for a post-graduate scholarship she applied for this past December.
That turned out to be a little white lie, and the person who popped up when Shields answered the call was Ray Tanner.
Shields was surprised, and then shocked, when the South Carolina Athletics Director informed her she had won the program’s 2020 President’s Award, an annual honor given to the Gamecock who exemplifies superior achievement in academics, leadership, co-curricular involvement and service to the Carolina community.
“The people who have won the President’s Award, and I guess that includes me now, have had such amazing careers and had such amazing impacts on the Columbia community and even beyond that,” Shields said. “I’ve always looked up to the people who have won it. They’ve all done such an amazing job of being such well-rounded people. Athletes get very wrapped up in athletics. But the people who really go above and beyond that are extraordinary. I think the people who have won it in the past have really exemplified that.
“For the athletic department to think so highly of me, that’s such a blessing. I’m so honored, not only to be recognized as an individual, but for the volleyball program as a whole. ... Who I am, a large part of that is my program. It’s not just my award. It shows how amazing our program is — the players as athletes and people and as women who impact our community in such a great and positive way.”
Shields made program history this past season when she was named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association’a Division I All-America third team. The Orlando, Fla. native became the first Gamecock in the program’s 47 seasons to make one of the three All-America teams.
“Mikayla has been a driving force in turning South Carolina from the 12th place team in the SEC to back-to-back NCAA Tournament second rounds,” head coach Tom Mendoza said in a statement. “She’s a player that every opponent tries to game plan how to stop, and she consistently produces at a remarkable level. She’s a big reason why the team was successful on a national stage and this honor is a deserved recognition of that.”
“Being an All-American is pretty much the highest honor you can get as a volleyball athlete. There’s so few people and so few programs that are able to say, ‘Hey, we have an All-American. We’ve had an All-American,’” Shields said.
“So, even more as a team, to be able to say that this is where the program is heading, this is not only great for me, it’s great for the program. It does so much for recruiting and for the girls who will come after me. ... I’m hopeful that me getting the award will lead to even better players coming after me and for even better outcomes for South Carolina volleyball.”
In the program’a all-time history, Shields ranks in the top 10 in kills, attacks, hitting percentage and points, and cracked the 1,500 career kills milestone.
Shields played this past spring in a professional league in Finland.
“I loved it. I loved the team that I was on and the city I played in,” she said. “It was so cool to be able to go and experience a different part of the world. It was almost like going and trying to learn how to play volleyball all over again, because European style is somewhat different than American style.
“So it was really cool not only being able to experience a different side of the sport I love to play, but also be able to see a whole other side of the world and culture.”
Shields was on a bus on the way to her first playoff match when she and her teammates received a call letting them know it was canceled because of the spreading coronavirus.
Now she’s back in Florida, spending time with her family and working out. She’s also studying for the MCAT, which she plans to take in June. She hopes to attend medical school and one day become an OBGYN.
South Carolina finished last season 20-12 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Gamecocks upset No. 10 Colorado State in the first round to mark the first back-to-back 20 win seasons since 2001-02.
Said Shields, “At the start of my [South Carolina] volleyball career, our program wasn’t fantastic. It was never really a thought in our heads that we could even make it to the NCAA Tournament.
“And so to be able to come out in 2018 and make it, and then actually win a game, that was fantastic. And then to do it again, that just shows how far our program has come and how much further we can go.”
It had always been Shields’ dream to play on her birthday, Dec. 7, because that meant she’d be playing in the NCAA Tournament.
This past season, South Carolina finished its season with a loss to No. 9 Washington in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
On Dec. 7.
Said Shields, “That’s one of my favorite memories. Even though we lost. The experience. I got to finish my career playing on my birthday. That was really cool.”