“I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”
Those words — chapter 4, verse 7 from St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy — were special to Michelle Shaffer’s late grandfather, and they are special to her.
“They remind me,” said the co-captain of La Reina High School’s highly ranked girls’ volleyball team, “to stay faithful to God through thick and thin.”
In sports, and in life, there are plenty of “thick and thin” times, sometimes more of one than the other. But Shaffer — last year’s Tri-Valley League MVP and an All-CIF Division 5 selection — has helped her Regents team enjoy far more joys than disappointments on the court, largely because she has her priorities straight off the court.
“Having faith in God is very important to me,” said Shaffer, who with her family attends St. Jude Church in Westlake Village. “Before every match, we pray as a team to help keep us focused and set the tone for what we do. That moment reminds us that it’s a privilege to play volleyball.”
Shaffer’s commitment to faith and excellence is evident to all at the Thousand Oaks girls’ school.
“Michelle is an outstanding leader on the court, in the classroom and throughout the community,” said Josh Michael, La Reina’s athletic director. “She is a terrific athlete and student, and an even better young woman.”
With playoffs set to begin the last week of October, La Reina’s 25-6 overall mark (through Oct. 9) reflects continued hard work and commitment by a team led by seven seniors (including Shaffer and fellow All-CIF first-teamer Ava Hudson) who have enjoyed experiences “thick and thin” for the past four years.
Coached by Cory Hanson, the Regents were 8-0 in the Tri-Valley League (24-0 in sets), extending its league win streak to 44 since Shaffer’s freshman year, and have held the top spot in the CIF Division 5 poll for several weeks.
“And we believe we can go all the way, win CIF and state,” smiled Shaffer, having (like her senior teammates) played in two CIF championship finals (2014 and 2016), but falling short each time. “We have played together a long time, and that connection helps us on the court; we go through good times and bad together.”
The bond among teammates and the friendships that result are what drew Shaffer to La Reina, after she’d attended public elementary and middle school in Thousand Oaks. “I loved the fact that it was all-girls, and the religious aspect was very important to me, too,” said Shaffer, who serves on the campus liturgy team and is an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist for school Masses.
She and her older brother (now a student at UC Santa Barbara) grew up learning the game from their father, a former volleyball player, and playing club volleyball.
“The game is fast and exciting,” said Shaffer, who also plays for the Sunshine Club, one of the Southland’s top junior volleyball organizations. “And my family helps me love the game; they make me better, and they offer so much support.”
Her dad, David, a marriage and family therapist, and mom, Sandy, a junior high special education teacher, “support me in the choices I make, and that means so much.”
Currently, she’s enrolled in three AP classes as she prepares to attend Santa Clara University to play volleyball, though she is admittedly undecided about her course of study.
“I love math and science,” Shaffer noted, “but I also have an interest in business. So whatever career I choose is going to depend on what major I decide on. Mainly, I want to do something that involves helping others somehow.”
Active in numerous campus clubs, Shaffer participates in various service projects on and off campus, with a particular fondness for helping at local soup kitchens and senior citizen centers — another way, you might say, of “fighting the good fight.”
“I love helping those less fortunate and touching people’s hearts, doing something positive,” she said. “God is a huge part of my life.”