It took Robert Shields a little while to get back into the swing of things. Once the Camden Military Academy senior shook off the rust, though, there was no stopping him.
Returning to the game he loved after putting his stick away for two years, Shields closed his only season as a member of the Spartans’ lacrosse team by signing a National Letter of Intent with Coker College.
Come next spring, he will join fellow CMA alum and Cobra freshman attacker Shane McEnery with David Oliver’s program.
A native of Port Washington, N.Y., where he started playing lacrosse when he was five, Shields moved to Mooresville, N.C., two years ago. He transferred to CMA after one year at Lake Norman High School. The move paid off in several ways, not the least of which was his signing to play the sport he loves in college.
“I’m just very excited about Coker. It’s a beautiful campus,” Shields said of the Hartsville institution.
“I decided to play lacrosse again this year and it, obviously, worked out for me. I’m very happy with my decision and I’m looking forward to being able to play with such great players and under such a great coach as David Oliver at Coker.”
This past season, Shields served in an unofficial capacity as a player-assistant coach for CMA lacrosse coach Gerry Gudgel. With Shields’ experience and being one of a handful of players at the school who had played the sport before, he was someone who could offer his knowledge of the game to the Spartans’ coaching staff.
“He has been an asset to me both in working with the kids and also giving me some thoughts and advice on plays and some things we could do to be more effective in developing our kids,” Gudgel said of Shields’ value to the 2017 Spartans. “I’ve been very pleased with him.”
Shields said he was happy to help out in the development of his Spartan teammates, many of whom had never played the game before the start of this past season.
“Here at Camden Military,” he said, “we had a lot of kids who were on a lacrosse field for the first time this year. We probably had six players this year who had picked up a stick before the season, that was definitely a challenge.”
Used as a midfielder at CMA, Shields got off to a slow start in being held without a goal in his first two games. Then, the muscle memory started kicking in and Shields was off and running. “When I started playing this season,” said the former player at Manhasset High School in Long Island, “I was picking it back up after two seasons of not playing. Now that I’m back into it, I got back into the flow of things after not having scored in our first two games. I got a lot better as the season went on.”
Oliver told his newest signee that he plans on keeping Shields as a midfielder. It was a switch for the New York native who, before coming to CMA, had always played as an attacker.
“I’ve played attack all my life and this was the first time I ever played midfield,” he said of his new spot on the field. “I’ll play wherever they need me.”
Gudgel said Shields can play either position and be successful at both spots.
“He played midfield here but he can play attack; he can play offense,” he said. “He has great stick work. As long as they have him in the offensive schemes, he’ll do fine.”
Like all athletes making the jump from high school to college competition, Shields said the speed of the game and being around older, more experienced players will be the two biggest adjustments which he will have to make. That being the case, he knows he has to keep honing his skills before practices begin at Coker.
“I watched two of their games this year and there is a lot of potential coming up for next year. I just hope we can have a great season next year,” he said. “I look forward to working hard to get ready for next season as in hitting the wall, practicing a lot over the summer, lifting weights and just becoming a better overall person other than a player.”
Gudgel said there are two different ways a player with Shields’ skill set can look at taking the next step in their athletic life. While at CMA, Shields stood out from the rest of the pack. At Coker, he will be drawn back into it.
“It’s a positive and a negative,” Gudgel explained. “He’s going to be playing with other kids who are at the same skill level as he is. At our level, we’re not deep and other teams aren’t deep; there will be some weaknesses in some positions. At the college level, he’ll be playing against and with kids of equal skill level. That will be a plus in that he’ll be able to work with them but he’s also going to be playing against them.”
Shields credited CMA for helping him get to this point in his life. He probably never envisioned himself signing to play lacrosse in college. A year at the east Camden school pointed his life in a new and different direction.
“You can say that I wasn’t as disciplined when I got here but I definitely got more disciplined and became a better person,” he said of the CMA experience.
John Heflin, CMA’s dean of students, has seen the change Robert Shields has made in one year at the school. He said if he continues on his new path, the sky will be the limit for Shields, both on and off the lacrosse field.
“If Robert remembers all the things he was taught here,” Heflin said, “he will do a great job and will be a great asset to the program at Coker.”