The most accomplished performer of UNO’s Division I era expected to be no more than a role player.
Mikaela Shaw admittedly didn’t know what she was getting into by joining a D-I program in transition, but she envisioned snatching a few rebounds while chipping in some points here and there.
Thrust into a starting role right away, she wound up doing much more. Shaw enters her Senior Day as the only Maverick in school history to collect 1,700 points, 875 rebounds and 300 assists in a career.
Honored by the Summit League in each of her collegiate seasons, Shaw has become the face of UNO women’s basketball. Her high school coach at Sandy Creek, Russ Ninemire, finds that so appropriate.
“If you want your daughter to look for a role model, you couldn’t find a better person,” he said.
Shaw has been named her school’s female athlete of the year twice already. The only player remaining from coach Brittany Lange’s first freshman class has started every game of her UNO career.
“I never imagined I would be the face of this program. I never imagined I would have this much success,” she said. “I came in knowing I would work hard for whatever I would be given, but I’ve achieved more than I ever thought possible. The opportunities I’ve had here have exceeded my expectations.”
Turning hard work into athletic achievement — or overachievement — is nothing new in her family. The five children of Steve and Kathy Shaw have been doing that in Nebraska for more than two decades.
Brian, Pam, Amber and Keri transitioned extraordinary multi-sport prep careers at Sandy Creek into successful collegiate careers before Mikaela did. Brian was a linebacker and member of two national championship teams at Nebraska. Pam started at point guard for four years at Briar Cliff and is in that school’s hall of fame. Amber, now the high school volleyball coach at Malcolm, was one of the best hitters in Hastings College history. Keri recently started on Fort Hays State’s best basketball team ever.
Mikaela, nearly 18 years younger than Brian, has excelled while following in their footsteps.
“They’ve had a nice run, that family,” Ninemire said. “Their family commitment is very, very strong. Their parents did it the right way bringing them up. They all have one thing in common — they have great work habits.”
Ninemire would know. He coached them all. He was Sandy Creek’s football coach when Brian was in high school, and at least one of the Shaw sisters played on seven of his 10 championship basketball teams.
Mikaela said her family’s work ethic began with her parents and grandparents. The kids came by it naturally while helping out on the family farm in south-central Nebraska.
“Growing up on the farm, you have to work,” she said. “I remember it, and it was hard. That’s what did it. We had to do hard things outside of sports. And so inside of sports, it was fun to do the hard things.”
Steve Shaw said he could always tell his kids felt a sense of accomplishment when they finished a job.
“If they were feeding a bottle calf, fixing an electric fence or driving a tractor, probably before they should’ve, they accomplished something,” he said. “It made them feel good that they could do things.”
Steve was Mikaela’s first coach. As a first-grader, she played on Keri’s third-grade team and fit right in.
“You perform with who you are around. Whatever you do, you try to do it the best you can,” he said. “She saw the older girls and what they were doing. And she learned the timing of when you step up in a game and the difference it could make.”
Mikaela and Keri looked up to their older siblings. Pam and Amber weren’t only the sisters teaching them to dribble on the gravel driveway, they were featured in the championship pictures in the gym.
Joining them on the Sandy Creek walls was always a dream, Mikaela said. The younger Shaws were only months away from doing so when their mother died unexpectedly in the fall of Mikaela’s freshman year.
Kathy Shaw never had the chance to see her youngest daughter play a high school basketball game.
“She never got to see her, but her last wishes were for the girls to keep on playing,” Ninemire said. “They just simply took that to heart and continued to lean on one another to follow their dreams like their mother would want them to do. And I think that’s something they both did very, very nicely.”
Sports, Mikaela said, helped her and Keri through that time. Their older siblings were there to lean on, too.
“When my mom passed away, we got even closer,” she said. “They took up a huge support role.”
That has continued to this day. Mikaela said she still talks to each of her siblings at least once a week. And whenever she’s needed any kind of help, support or advice, one of them has always been there.
Mikaela said her older brother and sisters deserve a lot of credit for her success.
“Any adversity I go through, chances are one of my siblings went through it, too,” she said. “They always have feedback for me. They always have advice for me. Things that I didn’t know they went through at the time, because I was too young, they just brought that perspective. Things that I’ve struggled with never seemed that bad because there was always a solution at the end of the tunnel. I’ve gotten so much advice from Brian, Pam and Amber. They always know what to say and how to support me.”
Mikaela said she got a text from Brian the other day that read: You amaze me.
“Wow, how awesome was that?” she said. “My siblings had success, and we all have that same work ethic. The fact that it made me as successful as I have been at this level, I think amazed everyone who knows me. Everyone knew what I was capable of, they just didn’t know it was going to take me this far.”
Steve said he’s enjoying watching that little girl who crawled around the bleachers while Brian played for the final few times. He’s seen his kids play a lot of games, but said it never gets tiresome.
“We’ve seen several generations of parents and kids come through,” he said. “When Brian was playing ball, some of the parents were 20 years older than we were. We learned from that generation, and then we had our own generation. And then with Keri and Mikaela, it was another generation below us. The oldest generation appreciated the things that the kids can do. They were just so proud of their kids.
“I guess that’s what I learned. You don’t brag. You’re just modest. The pride shows through. When you see that smile on my face, it’s enjoying the moment. It’s been a lot of moments, but you enjoy them all.”