Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a multipart series recognizing the 2021 Shieh Su Ying Scholar Athlete finalists.

To say the coronavirus pandemic affected recently graduated high school student-athletes may be the understatement of the century. With truncated or abandoned seasons, many of Guam's best and brightest scholar-athletes finished their careers wanting more, but preparing for the future.

While the Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam and the Guam Department of Education Interscholastic Sports Association did all they could to offer as many opportunities as possible, members of the class of 2021 will forever be known for how much was taken from them by a microscopic, sometimes fatal virus.

But for as much was taken from them, Dr. Thomas Shieh has given even more back. For the past 20 years, he has rewarded the island's elite with the Shieh Su Ying Scholar Athlete awards. And, pandemic or no pandemic, this year is no different. As they say in Hollywood: The show must go on.

"It’s been an unprecedented senior year!" Shieh said. 

"They are indeed a unique group of scholar athletes. They completed the pandemic year and were still able to shine. If that isn’t resilience I do not know what is," said former ISA coordinator Al Garrido.

The importance of sports on a student's growth cannot be overstated, Garrido said, reiterating his goal as coordinator to implement the safe return to interscholastic sports for thousands of island students.

"Anybody who knows sports knows all the intrinsic benefits that come from it. It’s not just about the jocks, there is an entire community involved in sports," Garrido said. "That community involved the players, the coaches, the parents, and the fans all the way to the administrators, GDOE admin, athletic directors, the media and our officials. Missing out on face-to-face school, missing out on that interaction, I saw how much it hurt the class of 2020, but they had most of their year."

Garrido commended all stakeholders for doing what they could to ensure students had the best experience in their return to sports.

"Everyone made the best of what they could make, considering the situation. I saw parents out in cars watching games from their phone or laptops," he said. "I saw senior nights that were modified to allow for the seniors to be recognized."

Garrido added a few words of advice as well as his congratulations to all that the class of 2021 was able to achieve amid a pandemic.

"So, congratulations to our class of 2021 and the scholar-athletes that represent them. Dr. Shieh may have to pick just two of you, but the 21 of you who made it to that final stage can be proud of all of your accomplishments," he said. " Do not take that for granted. Be the light that others may need. You are role models. Be responsible and - just like in sports - trust your instincts. God bless and best wishes."

Join The Guam Daily Post in congratulating the 21 seniors recognized by Dr. Shieh.

Each athlete was asked the same set of questions or topics.

• What was your favorite moment in high school sports?

• What were the greatest sports challenges and triumphs during the pandemic, and how did you persevere?

• What were your athletic and academic high school goals and did you achieve them? How so?

Austia Mendiola

High school: Notre Dame High School

College: San Diego Mesa College

Major: Kinesiology

Q1: Honestly, it is very hard to choose just one favorite moment that I have experienced in high school sports, but if I had to choose I think it would be my junior year volleyball championship. We went through so much adversity in the beginning of the season, but we were still able to overcome it all and work as a family to end our season with a win. That feeling that I got was indescribable and to be able to do it with that group of girls made it an experience that I will never forget. 

Q2: I think the biggest sports challenge during the pandemic was the amount of time that we got. Not only did we get a shorter time to prepare, but our season was also cut shorter than usual. Nevertheless I am just grateful that we even got to have a season and that I got to play ND volleyball one more time. For me, the biggest triumph was just getting to step on the court with girls I call family and getting to play the sport we all love together one last time.    

Q3: Academically, I wanted to end my high school career with all A's, and I can gladly say I did that. It wasn't easy and took a lot of sleepless nights, but I prioritized what was important and knew if I wanted to play sports, I had to get school done successfully. Athletically, I wanted to win as many 'ships as possible, and although we didn't win volleyball our last year and didn't get the chance to play rugby, I am still crazy happy to leave ND with six championships. Most importantly, my biggest goal was to grow and mature as both an athlete and a student. I think that I have grown these past four years, but I know that I am not even close to done yet, and I am beyond excited for all the lessons and learning opportunities that the future has to offer.

Sameha Wilbanks

High school: Guam High School

College: University of Guam

Q1: Choosing my favorite moment in high school sports is rather difficult because of all the amazing moments I have had with my teammates over the past four years. Overall, most of my favorite moments occurred after a track race when me and the girls mid-distance team would hug each other after our race and have a moment of gratefulness and camaraderie after we had just put a lot of effort into our race. ... My favorite moment of all, though, was the moment our team captain of the track team prayed over us after we had won the championship (this person was not me). She thanked God for the victory, and I honestly feel like she left a great impression on those on our team. The boys and girls had won the championship, I had won my events because God had helped me persevere through each of them, and ultimately our team publicly glorified God when we thanked him after we had won.

Q2: Me and my fellow athletes struggled to keep up our athleticism during the pandemic, but I honestly have more sympathy for the seniors who did not get to run their last races due to the cancellation of track and field in the year 2020. Personally, during quarantine is when I accepted Jesus into my life, thus God took control of my running as well as the other areas in my life. It was like the areas of my life that I used to govern by myself were being unraveled and handed over to the Creator, and he began to make something beautiful out of each aspect of my life and running was definitely one of those things. I started training during quarantine, but I pushed a little harder than I used to. God put the desire in my heart to try and win the championship for cross-country. I was not sure we were going to have a season and sometimes I would fear that I was training for nothing, but I thought if God was having me train, then something was bound to happen eventually. It was challenging trying to keep speed and endurance during the pandemic in order to prepare for the upcoming season, but whenever I was down and I did not feel like running, I was reminded that I am not alone when I run, my heavenly Father watches over me through it all.

Q3: Throughout high school, many of my goals were unclear, scattered and self-centered, but my senior year was different from the other three because I was saved and I started to get a vision for what I needed to be working for. At the start of my senior year, I had made it my goal to glorify God in both academics and athletics starting with my goal to get first place for cross-country and then telling people about him on-camera. My academic goals, on the other hand, were to get straight A's, get at least a four on my AP Calculus exam and end my high school career with an overall GPA of a 4.1. Unfortunately, none of that happened. I know that, academic-wise, I could have worked harder to achieve straight A's and do well in my Calculus class, but it turns out that I had made a mistake by taking AP Calculus. ... In athletics, though, to my surprise I was made team captain of the cross-country team. My goal in that instance was to be a good leader by inspiring and encouraging my teammates, praying over them and having a good influence on them. I learned about how to be a leader and how to help other people when I was under pressure before our races began. I did not get first place for the cross-country All-Island meet, I got third place, but I am proud of my teammates who came in first and second. During track, on the other hand, it was like God showed me how to not be super anxious and to trust him with my races. During the All-Island track meet, I felt extremely weak and it felt as if my body was not going to make it through my events, but I asked Jesus to give me strength, and he did. I got first for all of my events that day and our team was able to give glory to God as a whole. Therefore, although not all of my personal goals were accomplished, God surprised me and helped me accomplish the things I never even thought could have happened, this scholar award included.