LA GRANGE PARK – It’s no secret that four-year varsity starters are going to be a big part of the success of a program.
However, Nazareth’s girls volleyball team didn’t truly get to appreciate the value of Samantha Brown until she was injured early in her junior season and the Roadrunners had to play without her.
“You don’t know what you have until you don’t have it anymore,” Nazareth coach Wayne Saunders said.
Brown went down after 11 matches last year when the Roadrunners had an 8-3 record.
She returned for the sectional semifinal against Joliet Catholic but wasn’t at her best.
This season, Brown showed what she was capable of in a full season. The senior outside hitter, who is committed to Youngstown State, had 430 kills and 44 aces to lead the Roadrunners to a 29-7 record.
“I knew from the beginning of the year that we were going to be successful," Brown said. "I wish we would have gone farther (in the playoffs), but I knew it was going to be a good season.”
Her standout year made her the Most Valuable Player of the Suburban Life all-area girls volleyball team.
Saunders has had a number of college level players play for the Roadrunners in recent years and Brown is right there among that elite group.
“I think she is in that group of being one of the best players that’s come through the program,” Saunders said.
Brown was always a strong offensive player, but this year she showed she could play the back row as well. Brown was second on the team with 233 digs.
Her ability to play every rotation also meant the Roadrunners didn’t need to sub off a top offensive weapon. Brown showed the ability to hit from the back row as well.
“It allowed us to have her hit out of the back row,” Saunders said. “We can leave her in and we’re not going to give up a lot and we can use her out of the back row [offensively], where she was effective.”
Another element that Brown had to display this fall was leadership. The Roadrunners only had two seniors on the roster, Brown and libero Linnea Rohrsen. Saunders said Rohrsen was more of a quiet leader for the team while Brown chose to be more vocal.
“I think that’s part of who she is,” Saunders said. “She’s definitely a leader on the court. Both by her actions and how she plays, I think she does a lot of stuff leadership wise for us.”
Next year Brown will play for Youngstown State and could be called upon right away since the Penguins have seven seniors on the current roster.
The recruitment process hit a snag when Brown hurt her leg in the middle of recruiting season, but she had already proven enough to still receive offers. When she visited Youngstown State's campus and the team, she was quickly sold.
Her time at 1st Alliance Volleyball Club helped make her the player she is now. Brown started playing for the club in fifth grade and has ever since, enduring the year-round schedule.
“You have to dedicate a lot of time, but I like it," Brown said. "It’s not really army like so you want to be there.”
At 1st Alliance she played with Emma Saunders, the oldest daughter of the Nazareth coach. She helped convince Brown and older sister Brittany go to Nazareth instead of Queen of Peace, where oldest sister Nicole went, or Mount Assisi.
Brown will be the third Brown sister to play in college. Nicole, played four years at the University of St. Francis in Joliet. Brittany, currently a sophomore setter at Loyola, played with Sam at Nazareth for two years.