Eastern's final match of the 2012 campaign on Saturday is all about recognizing the seniors, but Laney Brown and her teammates want to spend their last night at Reese Court honoring an even bigger hero
By Fedor Gaponenko, EWU Sports Information
Senior setter Laney Brown of the Eastern Washington University volleyball team is no stranger to selfless acts. The “Triple Threat Citizen” award winner at last year’s 4th Annual EeeWoos, Brown has continued to strive for excellence in athletics, academics and community service.
The “quarterback” of the Eastern Washington University volleyball team, Brown has succeeded in a position that is all about making those around her better.
After overcoming an early-season injury, Brown has stepped up in the face of adversity this season to lead her team in a 5-1 offense. The senior setter has averaged 9.75 assists per set, as well as 2.51 digs. After 22-consecutive losses to start the season, Eastern has won five of its last eight matches, including two wins over two of the top teams in the Big Sky Conference.
Brown was recently named the Big Sky Player of the Week for her role in Eastern’s inspiring turnaround.
But in the midst of overcoming their own misfortunes, Brown and the entire Eagle volleyball team have dedicated time this season to individuals who are battling much harder obstacles.
On Saturday, in Eastern’s final home match of the year, Brown and the rest of the squad will welcome a seven-year-old girl and her family to Reese Court for a special “Eagle Volleyball Experience.” Along with free tickets to the match and VIP seating behind the team bench, the Eagles provide a pizza dinner, a tour of the volleyball team room and a personalized, decorated locker for the night, as well as recognition to the crowd before the match begins.
The “Eagle Volleyball Experience” gives these kids and their families an opportunity to participate in all the pregame and postgame rituals of the night, becoming a real part of the Eastern volleyball team.
Brown has been a volunteer with the American Childhood Cancer Society of the Inland Northwest for the past two years. She has served on the organization’s fundraising committee, helping coordinate and plan various events. But this season, Brown and her teammates wanted to be able share some of the privileges they enjoy as collegiate student-athletes with the incredible young kids who are battling cancer every day.
As Brown has learned throughout her five-year career with the Eagles, what happens on the court is just a small part of being an athlete; the rest is about the impact you can make off the court.
Right now you are involved with the American Childhood Cancer Society. What do you do for that organization and how has the experience been?
“Originally, I thought I would get to spend a lot of time with the kids in the hospital programming activities, but I found out that they needed me more to organize fundraising events. A bulk of what I do is call people for donations, organize events and put together multimedia for those events. But I do get to attend the events as well, and that’s where I get to interact with the kids and parents.”
What has working with this organization taught you…do you feel you’ve gained a lot from the experience?
“I’ve definitely worked with some of the most amazing people. These kids are fighting the hardest battle of their lives and they are still some of the most joyful kids and have some of the strongest parents you’ll meet in your life. I’ve gained perspective on life, just realizing to never take anything for granted.”
Talk about the inspiration for the “Eagle Volleyball Experience,” and how do you feel it has worked out so far?
“Our head coach Lisa Westlake actually came up with the idea. She knew that I worked with the organization, so I contacted them and asked if they would be interested in partnering with us. So that’s how it got started. Last month, we had a boy come to one of our home matches, and it went really well. He was really shy, so some of the things we had planned didn’t end up happening all the way because he wanted to stay in the stands with his mom. But that was totally fine, because he still got to come to the locker room and we decorated a locker for him, signed a ball for him, and recognized him to the audience, and it seemed like he really enjoyed it.”
Last year, you were presented with the “Triple Threat Citizen” Award for excellence in athletics, academics and community service. What drives you to go out there and be so active in the community?
“The biggest thing—as far as working with the American Childhood Cancer Society—is I have always just loved working with kids. It is such an awesome organization to work with. Ever since I became connected with them through my sister, I’ve had a passion to keep working there.”
Have you always been active in the community?
“Being involved in athletics, you are automatically in the public eye and part of the community. But reaching out and doing other things has always been a part of my personality.”
This has been a tough year for you and the team, from injuries to the coaching change to the losing streak to start the season. How good does it feel to just go out there play volleyball and get some wins before the season is over?
“It has been awesome to finally get some wins and feel like we’re in the groove of things again. When you can go out there with your teammates and compete hard to the wire, it is a great feeling.”
What has happened to help the team really click these last several games?
“I couldn’t pinpoint it exactly. I would say that most teams have the preseason to work out all the glitches, but we had injuries and a couple of the girls didn’t even start playing until the conference season had already started. We have been working out the kinks all season and now finally found a little bit of a groove.”
You will suit up Saturday for the last match of your Eagle career. What will it be like playing in that game?
“Lately, I’m just trying to enjoy every moment. This is probably the last time I will play volleyball at this high of a competitive level. I’m excited for it, but it will definitely be a little bitter-sweet. I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and play in the moment.”
Would you say there is extra motivation to leave it all on the court and finish your career with victories?
“Yes, for sure. I think that has been the mentality of our team this year considering everything we’ve been through. We want to just step out there and leave it all on the court. That’s how we’ve been playing all season long, but I think it will be heightened even a little more knowing that it’s our last one.”
On Saturday before the match against Weber State, you and the other two seniors [Cora Kellerman, Shelby Puckett] will be honored. How has it been working, learning and playing together the last four/five years?
“Cora (Kellerman) and Shelby (Puckett) are two of my best friends. They are two of the most amazing people. They have great hearts, so playing with them has been a privilege. I think that will be the hardest part of leaving the team - leaving all these amazing people that I’ve been with so long. It will be really tough. Cora and Shelby especially have had a huge impact on me as a volleyball player and as a person.”
You had a chance to play with your sister Jacque earlier in your career, what was that like?
“Growing up, I’ve always played with Jacque, so we’ve had our tiffs as sisters. It’s funny because people would always ask us who was better, but I’m a setter and she’s a hitter, so it’s not really comparable. We would always answer 'we’re both good at what we do.' Playing with her was awesome, just to have your best friend on the court and know that she has your back no matter what happens.”
What has been your favorite memory here at EWU?
“Probably our match at NAU this year because it was just outrageous. We went to five sets and there were 10 extra points in the fifth, and it was just a crazy battle with all of my teammates. That’s the one I can think of right off the top of my mind.”
After you graduate what do you plan to do with your degree?
“Right now, I’m researching some potential internships. I’m looking into different resorts, which would be a good experience in programming recreational activities. After that, I will just have to see what God has in store for me.”
It would seem like you stay busy with volleyball, classes and community service, but when you do find free time, what do you like to do?
“I had a feeling this question would come up and my short answer is I don’t know yet. I literally play volleyball and hang out with friends. I like to read, and I like to hangout outdoors in the summertime, but those are pretty generic answers. I guess I’ll find out what my hobbies are once I finish volleyball, although I’m sure I’ll continue playing beach volleyball and probably playing in some sort of competitive league.”
What do you hope to be remembered most for here at EWU?
“I just want to be remembered for being a joyful person. Being a good volleyball player is important to me, but I would rather be remembered for being a great person, a great friend and a great teammate. Something people say about me is that I never stop smiling. I really treasure that because that is what I feel like I am - a joyful perso - and I’m glad I can portray that.”