With her size and agility, inside moves and outside range, opposing basketball teams have no choice but to take South River senior forward Lindsay Sheppard seriously.
Taking herself seriously is another matter.
All that laughing coming out of the Seahawks' locker room before each game can often be attributed to the talented 6-foot-1 forward, who likes to crack up teammates, then break down opponents.
"I'm definitely a light-hearted person and love to joke around," Sheppard said. "Players have different ways of focusing for a game. Everyone on our team enjoys cracking on each other - we're crazy until it's time to go out there and the whistle blows. I think it keeps us all relaxed - everyone plays better when they're having fun."
Who can argue?
The No. 10 Seahawks are 11-3 overall and 8-1 in Anne Arundel County, and Sheppard, who scored 20 points in a 60-49 win yesterday at Broadneck, is thriving in the lead role of a talented group. Averaging 12 points and 10 rebounds, the team captain brings versatility to the court and take-charge ways when it counts the most.
The latest example came on Jan. 23 when the Seahawks were trailing late against county rival Severna Park before coming away with a 68-61 victory. Sheppard finished with 17 points, getting most of them in the deciding minutes.
"We would double down on her every time she touched the ball and kept her quiet for the majority of the game," said Severna Park coach Dave Griffith. "But then in the fourth quarter, she was able to take the ball outside to get better looks. With around four minutes left, we were up three or four, and then she went on a little spurt where she scored six straight points, and the next thing you know, we're down by three."
Sports has played a major role in Sheppard's life from an early age. At 3, she was already on skis and by 5, when it was time to sign up for rec leagues, Sheppard was scoring baskets and goals playing basketball, soccer and lacrosse.
Aside from being the first off the bench in basketball as a freshman, she has been a varsity starter in all three sports at South River from the start of her career, playing defense in both soccer and lacrosse. An All-County performer in basketball and soccer, she's working on her 11th varsity letter this winter.
The running joke with teammates is Sheppard never had any video games because she was always outside playing something. Sheppard agrees.
When asked what else she enjoys doing aside from sports, she pauses for a second or two and then finally says: "More sports."
It runs in the family.
Her father played some football in his younger days and was on the crew team in college; her mother enjoys tennis; and her older brother, Chris, now at Salisbury University, played some football and basketball in high school.
"Sports has been a big part in our entire family," Sheppard said. "Even our extended family - I have eight cousins and any outdoor family activities we have, we'd always be playing kickball or something."
Right from the start, Sheppard was always the one that if you needed a goal, you'd move her up to forward; if you needed to protect a lead, you'd move her back to defense.
"She's always had natural athletic ability and instincts," said her father, Herb Sheppard, who was her first coach in basketball. "There's certain things you can't coach: size, speed and strength, coordination and ability, and she's always had a unique combination of all those things."
Basketball became Sheppard's favorite sport when she began playing in the Amateur Athletic Union in middle school.
She enjoys the game's quick pace, the unity it brings with teammates and the crowd's reaction from a blocked shot or no-look pass.
It's proven to be an ideal forum to display her skills.
"I think she's one of the top players in the state," said her Maryland Waves' AAU coach, Sam Walker, whose team made the top 24 out of 78 teams at Nationals last summer. "She has so many moves around the basket, and then she can step out and shoot from the outside or take a player off the dribble. There's just so many things she does."
Sheppard, who would like to teach history and also coach, is still undecided on a college, but plans on playing basketball somewhere. She wants to win a state title at South River before she moves on.
As a freshman, the Seahawks' lacrosse team reached the state final, but fell to perennial power Mount Hebron. The soccer team has had postseason runs end in disappointing shootout losses the past two years. This spring, Sheppard plans to enjoy a season of tennis instead of lacrosse.
With senior center Theresa Sparks helping inside, junior Stacy Hunt leading a talented backcourt, and junior Rachel Fry and freshman Ali Moreland adding fine athleticism to make up a quality starting five, Sheppard is confident the Seahawks can get it done under first-year coach Chiara Lee.
And, of course, they plan on laughing all the way.
"After soccer season, I thought, 'That was it,' because once you get out of the county in basketball, it gets so much tougher," Sheppard said. "But this year, the way the team has come together, I just feel like we can play with anyone. If we're put up against a good, tough team, I think we'll rise to the occasion - we're that kind of team."