There are not many 6-foot-5 teenage girls who would walk into their high school's homecoming dance wearing four-inch heels. But then, Loudoun Valley senior middle hitter Blair Brown is more than a little accustomed to standing out in a crowd.
Brown, the 2004 All-Met volleyball Player of the Year, said she grew comfortable in her own skin sometime after middle school.
"Now, I don't really even feel tall anymore," Brown said, giggling. "I know that sounds crazy. But I guess I've just adapted. Plus, it's not like I didn't know it was coming."
Brown's father, Jeff, is 6-4 and her mother, Jaima, stands 6-1. Her natural athletic ability could well come from her parents, too. But the credit for the dedication Brown has shown as she has developed into one of the nation's top high school volleyball players all goes to her.
"The thing about Blair is yes, she's got the size, but she's worked to get the power," said Heritage Coach Carmel Keilty, who led Loudoun Valley to back-to-back Virginia AA titles in 2001 and 2002, coaching 2001 All-Met Valerie Murphy (now at Delaware) and 2002 All-Met Player of the Year Kristen Carlson (University of San Diego). "She wanted to be good and she worked to get there. Following Valerie and Kristen, she had to work to establish her own name, and she's done that."
Brown first drew national attention as one of 11 players on the U.S. youth national team in the summer of 2004 that defeated teams from Puerto Rico, Guatemala and Mexico to earn a gold medal in the qualifier for this year's world championships. She followed that by leading Loudoun Valley to a 29-0 record and its third AA state title in five seasons last fall, amassing 512 kills, 116 solo blocks, 49 block assists, 61 aces and 144 digs.
Her performance made her one of 10 finalists for the national junior player of the year award given by PrepVolleyball.com, which bases its selections on statistics and players' contributions to their high school programs. This season Brown, who has committed to third-ranked Penn State, was ranked seventh on the Web site's list of "Senior Aces." And she and the top-ranked Vikings have stretched the team's winning streak to 49 games heading into tonight's AAA National District tournament opener. Though Loudoun Valley's team is solid, Brown is unquestionably its star. She is also the Vikings' only returning starter from its 2004 lineup.
"Oh, no question, she's the best player in the state," Cave Spring Coach Tamalyn Tanis said after losing to Loudoun Valley in last year's Virginia AA title game. "We tried to simulate her in practice, but you just can't do it unless you can recruit a 6-foot-5 guy who really knows how to play. It's not just the speed she gets on the ball, but it's the sharp angles the balls are coming at you. It's astonishing."
That from a coach whose team includes senior middle hitter Stacey Craighead, a Seton Hall recruit who earned an honorable mention spot on the Senior Aces list. She and Marshall middle hitter Katie Usher, another honorable mention pick who has committed to Maryland, are the only other players from Virginia included on the list.
"That's the difference between Blair and most other elite players," said John Tawa, who compiles the Senior Aces list with input from Division I and II college coaches. "Cave Spring has a Division I recruit over six foot herself, and yet she says she can't even begin to simulate Blair in practice. That should tell you something.
"It's a big thing in volleyball if you can put a ball down in front of the 10-foot line. I've seen Blair hit the one-foot line. I saw her hit a ball straight down to win a match, and it was spectacular. If you're lucky enough to get in the way of a ball it might pop back up. Otherwise, it's on to the next serve. Physically, she has all the ability in the world."
And, it seems, the confidence to walk tall into any room.
"She walked in with those four-inch heels at homecoming and -- wow," Loudoun Valley Coach Laird Johnson said. "She was really something."