Cal's Shields Aiming For NCAA Championship
by Keyon Johnson
A little over a year ago, University of California at Berkeley freshman Tom Shields was standing at the podium with raised arms in victory after winning the 100 butterfly at the NCAA Championships. Fast forward one year, Shields is the now ranked No. 2 nationally in the 100 butterfly and is the No. 1 seed in the 200 butterfly heading into this week's NCAA Championships.
Growing up in Huntington Beach, Calif., Shields loves to be on the beach playing volleyball, surfing and boogie boarding with his friends. Being in the water, whether it was in the ocean, bath tub or in a pool, has always been a major part of Shields's life. With both of his parents being life guards, Shields' was introduced to swimming as a young child. His parents understood the dangers of the ocean wanted Tom to be safe in the water so they taught him how to swim.
His parents noticed that he enjoyed being in the water and signed him up to participate in the summer league swim programs to get better. He did get better, and by the time he was a freshman at Edison high school, he became one of the best swimmers in his area.
"My freshman year of high school, I won the CIF with a time of 1:39," Shields said. "There weren't very many 14 year old kids who had done that at that time. That is when I knew that I was pretty good at it. That is when I decided to quit every other sport and focus on swimming."
That focus led Shields to win two more championships in his time at Edison, which captured the attention of numerous colleges throughout the nation. Shields verbally committed to be a Trojan at USC early on, and he was all set to swim close to home in Los Angeles. But Shields had a change of heart.
"I decided to take my recruiting trips anyway [after committing to USC], I liked what they had going on up here at Cal, and I also met some good guys like Mason and Graham, that kind of helped me select this program up here," he said. "I like the Northern California vibe, but I do miss Southern California every day."
The decision to come to Berkeley has turned out to be wonderful for all. California head coach David Durden is happy with the focus, personality and the maturity that Shields brings to the team.
"Our goal or path has been going towards the NCAA championship," Durden said. "Tom has stayed on track, followed through with the process. I think he has really matured and progressed through this process heading into the NCAA championships this week."
The NCAA championships would appear to add a lot of pressure on a person to compete at their best and could possibly affect a swimmer's psyche. Shields has another outlook on big meets according to Durden,
"Tom is a very laid back individual which stems from his Southern California roots," Durden said. "He tends to be very mellow about things and handles things in stride, but at the same time he is very aware of his abilities and his competition at the NCAAs and he respects that. As the days draws closer, Tom seems to dial in to the things that he looks to accomplish not only for himself but for the team as well."
Shields does in fact know the competition level that he will have to defeat to repeat as champion in the 100 butterfly.
"The 100 fly is going to be tough to repeat with [Stanford's] Austin Staab back in college now after taking a year off," Shields said. "He is quick, he made it back to the Pac-10s a couple of weeks ago, but I want to defend that title and defend it well. I am just going to race my heart out. I think that I am in a good spot now and we will see what happens from there."
Shields has put in a lot of work physically to prepare his body for the season and it has indeed paid off for him as he looks to compete in nearly 15 races at the NCAAs. So the most important thing for him to do now is to make sure his body is rested.
Tom has slowly become a quiet leader on the team. He is really not the vocal, get-in-your-face type of leader, but he will share his knowledge with the younger guys and girls on the team when he sees the need.
The amount of work that he puts in during practice and his performance during competitions speaks louder than his words can, and those actions have become infectious amongst his teammates and coaches. He credits the great senior leadership on the team as well as his spiritual relationship with God as a key to his development into a leader as well.
"As far as leaders go, we have a really strong senior class," Shields said. "I have been trying to be a good follower and trying to get everyone else to follow the seniors that we have. I will pipe up every once in a while in a team meeting, if I have something that I feel is worth to say."
Shields has a strong opportunity to become a double champion in the 100 and 200 butterfly. He is focused on keeping his mind free and clear, relaxing, having fun and swimming his race. He has put his complete trust in his coaches that they have done everything to get him to where he needs to be to accomplish that goal. Durden agrees with that as well.
"Tom needs to focus on absolutely nothing," Durden said. "He is in a great spot. He has put his focus, energy and his intensity into his training and now as he gets closer to racing, he needs to just let that happen and let it flow. He has been there before and done it, so he needs to go back and do it again a little bit better."
The parents that just wanted to make sure their son would be safe in the water had no idea how skilled a swimmer Shields would become. Shields and his teammates will travel to the University of Minnesota for the NCAA Swimming Championships, which will start on March 24.
Photo courtesy: Michael Pimentel, GoldenBearSports.com