A Volleyball Star and Basketball Captain, Sharon Nejad Is a Leader on and off the Court


Nejad shoots a free throw in a game against the Sacred Heart School varsity girls basketball team. The senior captain has been on the varsity team all four years of high school and is now committed to play Division III basketball at Pomona College. Photo courtesy of Sharon Nejad.

Chase Hurwitz, Sports Editor

Sharon Nejad is a leader. She’s the senior class president, a star volleyball player on the Menlo varsity team and the captain of Menlo varsity girls basketball. She’s been on both varsity teams all four years of high school and is now committed to play Division III basketball at Pomona College. She has filled almost every role in the classroom and on the court.

“My leadership on the court has carried onto leadership in the classroom. On the court, I’ve been in all positions. I’ve been the worst on the team. I’ve been the best on the team. I’ve been a benchwarmer, and [sometimes] I’ve never come out of a game. I know how everyone feels. […] I never forget when I was on the bench, so I always make sure that my teammates feel comfortable around me and enjoy being on the team. And I think the same goes for being class president. I’ve been a theater kid. I’ve been the smartest in the class. I’ve been the dumbest in the class. I think no matter where you stand, you always need to try to enjoy yourself, and I always want to be that person I was looking for when I was the worst at something,” Nejad said.

Growing up, Nejad played every sport she could participate in. “I started with swimming. Then I did volleyball, basketball, karate, wrestling, flag football and soccer,” Nejad’s mom signed her up for as many activities as possible, so her daughter could discover which one she liked best. “She signed me up for the arts too. I did theater lessons, hip hop and I played keyboard. I wanted to do more, too, but there was a point where even my mom said it was too much,” the Bay Area native said.

Nejad competes in a karate competition as an elementary school student. Growing up, Nejad (center) participated in a wide variety of sports such as karate, swimming, volleyball, basketball, karate, wrestling, flag football and soccer. Photo courtesy of Sharon Nejad.

Nejad’s family has always been supportive of her different activities and often attends her volleyball and basketball games. “They’re super supportive of anything I do,” Nejad said.

Participating in so many activities made it difficult for Nejad to narrow down her priorities as she moved through middle school and eventually into high school. One factor made some of her decisions easier than others, however. She was tall. In fact, she was the same height when she graduated middle school as she is now, making her the tallest in her middle school at 5 feet 10 inches.

Because of her height, volleyball and basketball seemed like obvious sports for her to pursue. Her stature, however, allowed coaches to put her at positions where her technical skills didn’t need to be developed as acutely. “I was kind of typecasted. For volleyball, I was placed as a middle, and basketball coaches forced me to play center. So, that meant I didn’t learn all the fundamental skills for every position which still affects me today. I can’t pass in volleyball, because I never learned to, and I can’t shoot from outside of the paint [in basketball] because I never got to when I was younger.”

When it came time to narrow her athletic focus even further in high school, the senior class president stuck with the sports she was best at. “I landed on basketball and volleyball. I had a height advantage, but I also liked them because they were team sports. I couldn’t play flag football anymore and the rest kind of fell through.” Nejad also threw discus on the Menlo track team as a freshman and briefly as a sophomore before COVID-19. 

Nejad has had impressive runs with both the volleyball and basketball teams. As a freshman in 2019, she was on the basketball team that won the California state championship. Most recently as a senior, the varsity girls volleyball team had a historic season, winning the West Bay Athletic League Foothill Division championship and placing second in the CCS Open Division.

Nejad shouted out senior Elenoa Fifita as one of her key teammates in the Menlo basketball program. The two have played together for all four years of high school. “Sharon has the ability to be a team leader and a teammate, and she knows when to balance the two. She knows when to take responsibility, and she knows when to be by my side when I need a shoulder to cry on,” Fifita said. “Everyone should have a Sharon.”

Despite loving both sports, Nejad notes the differences in team culture between the two. “I feel like the kids from basketball tend to come from the same background as me. Basketball, for a lot of people, is a way out, so I think they’re more humble, and there’s more weight in playing. Girls from volleyball come from very different backgrounds. They’re usually pretty wealthy and it’s less significant [for them] to play,” the Pomona commit said.

Nejad spikes the ball against Archbishop Mitty in the CCS Open Division Championship. With the potential to play either basketball or volleyball in college, Nejad had to make the tough decision to focus on basketball at Pomona College. Staff Photo: Chase Hurwitz.

The difference in fees charged by club volleyball and club basketball teams illuminates Nejad’s point. Often, club volleyball costs thousands of dollars more than club basketball, according to Nejad. “My mom didn’t expect me to play club [volleyball] or take it this far. The only reason I was able to play is because the coaches would pay for me, so I’m lucky. I don’t feel like I totally fit in because there’s not a lot of opportunities for lower class kids to play volleyball at such a high level.” The 5 foot 10 volleyball outside hitter played for three club teams. She started at Tropical Touch Volleyball in sixth grade, then moved to Academy Volleyball Club and finished at Vision Volleyball Club.

The idea of playing collegiately was something coaches always told Nejad she could do in both sports. “I love volleyball. I love basketball. If I loved one more I would have chosen way earlier.”

Nejad’s family also has a split preference towards her athletic career. “Everyone has a different opinion on which one I should play, even my parents. My mom loves volleyball and wants me to do volleyball, but my dad loves basketball and wants me to do basketball.” The basketball captain was supposed to make a decision about her collegiate sport during her sophomore year; however, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, that decision could be pushed back.

“Narrowing down my sport was a really hard decision,” Nejad said. Regardless, she would have been happy playing either sport at college. “It was always whatever takes me [to college]. Volleyball or basketball, I just care about the school I go to,” Nejad joked that she didn’t hear back from the Pomona volleyball coaches because she misspelled Pomona in her original email to them.

With the volleyball season over, Nejad looks towards her final basketball season at Menlo in preparation for her time at Pomona. “For me, it’s about getting ready for college and enjoying the time I have left on the team.” 

Nejad is one of the team’s varsity captains this year. “I’m not your typical leader. Other leaders look perfect, and I’m a bit chaotic. But I think I’m good at rallying my teammates. I feel that the key to winning is all about spirit. In my experience, even if we were worse, if we were louder or cared more, we would always beat the better team.” 

Some of Nejad’s closest volleyball teammates, seniors Ali Mckenney and Zoe Gregory, remember Nejad’s spirit from the first time they met her. “She was very loud. She always has so much energy,” Gregory said. “We became friends right away.”

Nejad (right) gives senior Alli Mckenney a piggyback ride while taking a team photo with her fellow seniors on the varsity volleyball team. The team had a historic season, winning the West Bay Athletic League Foothill Division championship and placing second in the CCS Open Division. Photo courtesy of Sharon Nejad.

Mckenney feels that Nejad’s easy going attitude makes her easy to respect. “She’s obviously really talented, but she’s also really down to earth which makes it easy to look up to her,” Mckenney said.

Nejad credits her mother and her upbringing for her humble attitude. “We just had the volleyball banquet, and I remember [Mckenney] saying to me ‘Sharon, you’re the most humble person I know.’ That meant a lot to me, and I think my upbringing led to that because no matter if I win states, my mom, she still makes fun of me, she still humbles me,” Nejad said. 

With her leadership in student council, it’s clear Nejad captures people’s respect in multiple disciplines. Senior student body vice president Marshall Seligson works closely with Nejad at weekly council meetings. “Sharon is great — she’s always contributing great ideas. I think senior class president is probably one of the hardest roles in student council just because the senior class expects more out of you. […] I think she’s been a leader since freshman year of the class of ‘22, but now she’s taken on that role more literally,” Seligson said. 

Despite her achievements, Nejad still prioritizes her personal connections over winning. “It’s just a game. People think I’m only an athlete. That’s just a small part of me. In people striving for greatness, they kind of push others to get ahead. For me, the most important thing is the people you meet and how you act as a teammate.”