Okinawa native Rue Maeda has been a defensive specialist for the Sherwood Lady Eagles this season. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)
ALBANY — Lakeisha Elder couldn’t help but notice the Nike Elite socks Sakurano “Rue” Maeda was wearing during a Sherwood Christian School volleyball game earlier this fall.
The girls basketball coach watched Maeda play, then she had an idea.
“I was like, ‘Do you like to play basketball?’ ” Elder said of the 5-foot-4 athlete, who had recently enrolled at the school from Okinawa.
Even though Maeda had a one-shot deal at basketball, Elder figured the senior could help out since she needed a replacement for last season’s defensive specialist — Diamond Clarke. Maeda’s speed and athletic ability had Elder curious.
Through six games, the senior has helped the Lady Eagles to a 5-1 record, using her quickness to spark Sherwood. She isn’t known as a scoring threat, but her defensive play has been stout.
It hasn’t seemed to matter that she’s a new girl at school, living in a new country and playing with new teammates.
“Her mind is like a sponge,” Elder said. “She’s having to learn everything about the school, new defenses and a lot of new things. But she’s not afraid to ask questions. I like that.”
Maeda left Okinawa when her father accepted a job at the Marine Corps Logistics Base. She had attended a private Christian school in her native country, and when they began looking at schools in Albany, her family felt Sherwood was the right fit.
She also played basketball back home. She said there isn’t much difference between her style of basketball and the American game.
“There’s just much taller people here,” she said laughing. “I can’t guard any tall people.”
Her teammates have embraced her. While she admits Elder’s style of coaching is a little different than what she was used to, she has fallen in love with the Sherwood coach. And Sherwood has fallen in love with her, too.
“I like her personality and the way she is outgoing,” senior guard Michaela Satchell said. “She’s very athletic, and we have a lot of things in common.”
While Maeda’s nationality may be different, she still likes the same things most teenage girls are fond of, such as Starbucks coffee, spending time at the shopping mall and hanging out with friends. She and Satchell have done plenty of that when they’re not on the basketball court.
Satchell has been impressed with her teammate’s ability to excel in the classroom as well as in the gymnasium.
“She’s smart, especially in math,” Satchell said. “She’s helped me many times with my homework. She makes 100s or high As on just about everything.”
The most difficult thing for Maeda this season has been fitting into a team that returned four starters. She said she didn’t want to disrupt the team’s chemistry.
Elder said the senior guard has brought more energy to a team that was expected to improve on last season’s 10-14 record.
“When I first saw her, I saw small things of greatness,” Elder said. “She has a lot of pep and a lot of athleticism. She’s fit right in and she has a great sense of humor. She’s very quick.”
You may not see Maeda’s name in the boxscore. However, her play has been valuable so far. Elder expects it to continue as the Lady Eagles soon begin region play.
“When you put her in the game, she’s going to get you about four points,” Elder said. “I think we had one game where she scored six. But then she is going to get you at least four or five steals.”
Which is a big reason Elder hoped she would try out for basketball.