Nazareth’s Samantha Brown admits she enjoys being the tallest child in her family. But it’s an advantage she’s unlikely to enjoy much longer. Her younger brother, Zachary, a freshman at St. Rita, is gradually overtaking her.
“He’s getting so much taller,” Brown said. “I don’t want him to beat me.”
Brown and her Roadrunner teammates haven’t been beaten too often this season. Nazareth (16-4) bounced back from a rough start at the Asics Challenge last weekend to win the Bronze division, beating Joliet Catholic for the second time in three days in the championship match.
The Youngstown State recruit leads the Roadrunners in kills and is hitting at a healthy .368 clip. She had 18 kills in a 25-18, 21-25, 25-15 loss to Marist and 17 in a 25-18, 24-26, 25-20 victory over Joliet Catholic. She is also among the team leaders in passing and aces.
Nazareth coach Wayne Saunders can only wonder what last year might have been like if Brown had been healthy all season.
“Last year, she sprained her knee before we played any conference matches and she didn’t play again until sectionals,” he said. “We didn’t want to do anything that would jeopardize her, but it was a huge loss for us.
“This year she’s come back really strong as a hitter, and we’re committed to her playing back row as well,” Saunders added. “She’s a great force for us hitting out of the back row. We basically have only nine players and she’s got to play a lot. She’s getting a lot of swings and she’s doing a nice job.”
Brown found her way to Nazareth by following her older sister, Brittany, now a sophomore setter at Loyola University. Brittany declined to follow Nicole, the eldest of the Brown sisters, to Queen of Peace, and tested at Mount Assisi before deciding to attend Nazareth.
“When Brittany came here, I shadowed her one day,” Brown said. “I liked it. I also played with coach Saunders’ oldest daughter, Emma, at 1st Alliance and he was always telling me I should go to Nazareth.”
But even Brown and her coach could not have foreseen the turmoil that ensued at Nazareth prior to the start of this season.
Two starters from last year’s sectional semifinalist transferred. Nazareth was forced to turn to three untested sophomores and a junior who had never played middle prior to this season.
With those players learning on the run, Brown and 6-2 junior Julia Saunders have had to provide the bulk of the Nazareth attack.
“Everybody knows it’s coming, but they’re two pretty good players to have to rely on,” coach Saunders said. “If you need a swing for game point, I’m OK with either one of those two. That’s an OK position to be in. Even if they got three blockers in front of them, I still like our chances.
“It is what it is,” he added. “I think they can handle it. We mix it up a little bit for them so it’s not like it’s all high outside sets. But they’re the horses we’re riding.”
Brown does not mind the heavy workload.
“I feel like there are times in the game when it’s good, because if we get on a run the ball will always be there,” she said. “But if we’re constantly, constantly getting set and not putting the ball away, then we feel more like it’s on us so it’s harder.
“But I love getting set and hitting the ball. It’s always good.”