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TAMPA — When Berkeley Prep outside hitter Sidney Brown was 14 years old, she learned a valuable lesson: how to bounce back from disappointment.
Sitting in the Baraboo-Wisconsin Dells Airport with tears in her eyes, Brown had learned she did not make the top level USA Volleyball select team. On the way home, she grabbed a napkin and scribbled down a few short-term goals. First, make the A1 program the next year, in 2011. After that, make the Youth National Team.
She folded the napkin and put it in a frame on her nightstand. On the front of the frame, it reads, “Always give your all.”
“When I did not make it, I was so upset with myself because I knew I hadn’t worked as hard as I could,” Brown said. “That’s really when I started getting competitive in training.”
The increase in focus has paid off. Brown, a rising junior, made the top level team for her age group in 2011. In May, she achieved her second goal of making USA Volleyball’s Youth National Team and will travel along with 11 other players born in 1996 or ’97 to Italy and Croatia for the European Global Challenge, which runs July 12-23.
When she received that news, there were still tears. But instead of sadness, there was joy.
“I had been pulling the results up on my phone since 8 a.m. that morning and my friends kept asking me, ‘Is it out yet?’ and that was making me more nervous. Then they postponed it 30 minutes and then they postponed it an hour and they kept on postponing it, and finally I just had to turn my phone off,” said Brown, who was in Orlando at the Berkeley Boys volleyball district final.
“And then in between games, I was like ‘I have to go look,’ and when I turned it on, I had five or 10 texts from my parents and my sister and missed calls, so I said, ‘Oh, my god, this has got to be good.’ I didn’t read the texts, I just went and looked online and saw my number, my code, and I just started crying.”
The trip overseas will be a first for Brown and will cap a year that brought many new opportunities to the south Tampa native. She transferred to Berkeley from Academy of the Holy as a sophomore before last school year, and promptly nailed teammate — and reigning Gatorade national player of the year — Jordan Burgess in the back of the head with an errant serve in their first preseason tournament (to Burgess’ credit, she laughed).
But Brown fit right in as a starting outside hitter for the Buccaneers’ state championship team, and she collected a ring she wears every day.
After the season, coach Randy Dagostino invited her to play with his 18-and-under club team, Tampa Bay Juniors. Dagostino’s daughter, Mackenzie, Burgess and five other Tampa Bay area seniors were on the team, making Brown the lone underclassman. Last week, the squad became the first team from the East Coast to win the USA Volleyball 18-and-under national championship, dropping only one set during the four-day tournament.
“We thought if she could handle the pressure of playing two divisions up on a team that was used to playing against the best in the country and not freak out, it would be a win-win situation, and it was a stage to be seen by a lot of college coaches,” said Dagostino, who retired from Berkeley after 29 years and 15 state titles. “And she handled it great, she came on really strong at the end and had a fabulous junior national.”
Brown said it wasn’t talked about but was understood she would assume the leadership role filled by Burgess and Mackenzie Dagostino. In the fall, the Buccaneers will chase a Tampa Bay-record 16th state championship.
But first, Brown has to check one more goal off her bedside napkin and compete against the world’s best in Europe.
“They could have picked another person for this. There are many other girls who could have done this, but I was lucky enough to be the one they picked,” Brown said. “So now I just have to go — it would be doing an injustice to the chance that I have if I didn’t go make the most of it and just have the time of my life.”