Top Cat: Brown embracing leadership role

With no seniors on the Eastern volleyball team, junior outside hitter Maria Brown has taken on a leadership role this season for the young Panther team.

Sean Hastings

With no seniors on the Eastern volleyball team, junior outside hitter Maria Brown has taken on a leadership role this season for the young Panther team.

Maher Kawash, Volleyball Reporter

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As a volleyball team with no seniors, the opportunity to become a leader presents itself for anyone else.

Maria Brown has fully embraced that role.

Brown is in her third stint with the Eastern volleyball team as a junior, and has only continued to improve as her Panther career has gone on.

Her most impressive campaign is the one she is in right now, and her recent success has proved that.

Brown posted a double-double this past weekend as well as totaling 29 kills and 34 digs in two matches.

But that is just another match for Brown as she has found similar success all season long.

Brown has posted 14 games with at least 10 digs, and also has six games with a minimum of 10 kills.

Her success does not come in just numbers though, as she has been poised as a leader on the team.

Other than guiding as one of the older athletes on the team, Brown has become a mentor on and off the court for the younger Panthers.

Despite having eight new girls on the team this year, the chemistry is still there and is an important part of Brown’s leadership.

“It helps having that chemistry, and I think we’ve done a great job of learning more about each other off the court,” Brown said.

As a leader on any team, there is bound to be pressure, but that does not affect Brown’s play.

“Being the oldest, I feel like there is that pressure, but I enjoy it,” Brown said. “I enjoy being a leader and bringing everyone together, so it is a pressure, but it’s a good pressure, and it pushes us to be better.”

While she has been positioned as one of the leaders, Brown still credits her success to the whole team.

“I really do have to owe it to our great setters and everyone around me on the court,” Brown said. “Everyone has been doing a great job of stepping up and doing their job on the court.”

Although Brown feels the success of her teammates, the Panthers have fallen just short in many of their matches this season.

At 4-19, Eastern has not lived up to some expectations, but Brown has found some light through it all.

“I just want to keep my play up for the girls, always have good games and fight hard every single game,” Brown said. “We have eight games left, but I’m going to make sure I do the best I can to try and get us to the tournament.”

Brown said her experience will be used to try and send the Panthers back to the tournament because she wants some of the younger athletes to get that experience.

Although it is rather unusual, Brown’s experience does not end with volleyball.

Along with playing volleyball, Brown played badminton in high school, and it actually relates more than one might think.

“I loved it, and the two sports are actually similar,” Brown said. “The arm swings are similar, and it actually comes in handy with how it helps me sometimes.”

Badminton also offered Brown a taste of Eastern before she actually enrolled as she made it to the state tournament her junior and senior seasons, which were both held at the university.

While the success in that sport was nice, Brown is hoping for more of the same in what has been a growing season for her team.

“It’s definitely been a change since my freshman year, and it’s been a growing year but we just have to stay patient,” Brown said.

Staying patient is important in Brown’s leadership role as well, as she and the other juniors try to mentor the rest of the team.

“It’s all about reminding them it’s going to be a battle, and it’s going to be hard,” Brown said. “We just can’t let the fact that we are a younger team lead us to think we’re not supposed to be doing good, and I think we’ve been doing a good job of that.”

Part of Brown’s leadership is also assisted by Eastern coach Sam Wolinski, and their relationship is an important part of any success on the team.

“I think we have a strong relationship, and we both have a fun side but we both have a serious side that we understand needs to come out at the right times,” Brown said. “On a leadership level, we do a good job of working with how I can be a better leader, and she stays patient with me on that.”

While she appreciates the patience of her coach, Wolinski emphasized how important Brown is to the Panthers’ team.

“She understands that the team is relying on her to be consistent with her game all around, and relishes that opportunity every day,” Wolinski said. “We have been fortunate to work with her the last two years.”

As far as room for improvement, Wolinski said Brown continues to solidify herself as the six rotation outside hitter.

The Panthers will continue to rely on her in the final stretch of the season, and the team is two games back of the final tournament spot for the Ohio Valley Conference.

As far as Brown’s approach for the final eight matches or any match before this, nothing changes.

“It’s kind of the same mindset for every match — just go out and fight no matter what team it is,” Brown said. “Certain teams we’re going to work on different things but just work until the last point and give it your all.”

That has been the motto for Brown’s season as well as her whole career at Eastern.

“My career here so far has been great,” Brown said. “It’s a wonderful program with wonderful people.”

Brown will continue to carry the team on her back, as she has been comfortable doing, but also said the team is close to reaching its potential.

Maher Kawash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]