In the game of volleyball, it’s always a wonderful quality when a team can have three go-to frontline hitters that can step up and take over a game at any given point in time.
However, in order for those hitters — which are Jensen Warnock, Delanie Gilliland, and Taylor Lewis, in the case of the Clay Lady Panthers — to take over a game like they can, a team must have a consistent and reliable presence at the setting position.
With over 1,000 assists to her credit in less than three full seasons of high school competition, Clay’s Lila Brown certainly is that kind of presence for the Lady Panthers’ volleyball program.
Brown, a multi-sport standout who also plays softball within the Clay umbrella, accomplished a significant milestone that few reach on the volleyball court when the junior collected 1,000 assists for her career at the Spartan Invitational, which was held at Albany Alexander High School earlier this month.
However, not only did Brown — who collected 81 assists over the three-game tournament — break down the 1,000-assist plateau during the three-game set, she also helped Clay collect arguably its biggest victories of the season to date, as the Lady Panthers took down Nelsonville-York (25-20, 13-25, 29-27), Wheelersburg (25-21, 25-22) and Chillicothe Huntington (25-22, 26-24) en route to obtaining a tournament championship for Clay in a truly special weekend for the junior hand.
For Brown, the thrill of obtaining such a lofty goal wouldn’t be possible without the presence that her teammates have provided throughout the course of the year.
“I felt completely thrilled after finally reaching 1,000 assists because all of the hard work finally paid off,” Brown said. “Without all the good passes from the back and the smart kills by my hitters, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this. I can’t thank them enough. I was overwhelmed not only by the support of my Clay family, friends, fans, and teammates, but also by the support of other individuals outside of the Clay School District.”
That bond that Brown has with her fellow teammates, however, hasn’t come by accident, as her fellow teammates have proven to be on the same page with the junior setter not only on the floor, but off of it, as well. In fact, all 10 players that are listed on the varsity volleyball roster participate in at least one, or more, additional sports sponsored by the school.
“They’re not only great teammates, but also great friends,” Brown said. “I feel like our bonds really help us mesh together while we’re playing. We all read each other well, and we push each other to put 110 percent into each play.”
In fact, those bonds have, more often than not, translated into resounding victories for each of the programs that the sophomore and junior-heavy group has been a part of. That has proven to be no different under the Clay volleyball umbrella, where the Lady Panthers have collected an overall mark of 51-16, and 32-8 in SOC I conference play, since the junior class members — Brown, Gilliland, Lewis, Warnock, Shaelyn Vassar, and Abby Ware — made the jump to varsity competition as freshmen in 2015.
“It’s a special feeling to know that we have a lot of potential and talent,” Brown said. “We’ve have been able to showcase that talent throughout the district these last few years. Coming from a small school, we don’t have the depth that these Division II and Division III schools have, so coming out on top against them is a great achievement.”
But as strong as the group is as a whole, it’s Brown’s contributions at the setting position that have been as vital to Clay’s success as anybody’s.
During the weekend at Alexander, the Lady Panthers, despite being among the smallest schools in the eight-team field, collected a gargantuan effort from Brown in each of the three affairs that Clay played in back on Sept. 16 that allowed Clay to win six of the seven sets that it played in Albany.
In fact, Brown, who notched 34 assists, six points from serve, two assisted blocks, and an ace in the first game, 24 assists and an assisted block in the second set, and 23 assists to go along with three points from serve in the third and final set of action, proved to be nothing less than a critical component in the outcome as Clay took all six of the sets that it won by five volleys or less — including a 2-for-2 mark in extra volley sets — en route to the tournament championship.
To top those accomplishments all off, Brown accumulated the career milestone and the tournament championship — all just 48 hours in advance of her 17th birthday.
“The first game that we played at Alexander really set the momentum for the rest of the day,” Brown said. “Then the next game was where I made it to 1,000. Our team really showed up that day and everything fell into place leading us to winning the Spartan Invitational. I remember everything about that day. Taking home three huge wins and a record was definitely something special to me. It was a great day to start my birthday weekend!”
However, while the events that occurred at the Alexander Invitational will certainly be ones that Brown holds near and dear to her heart, the junior has goals that go further than just an invitational title.
“Being a part of this team is such a blessing because I’ve grown up playing this sport with my teammates and it has taught me so many lessons I hope to carry with me as I grow up,” Brown said. “The opportunity I’ve been given to play on this team is like no other and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. My goal is to stretch our tournament run as far as we can this year. Then next year, we want to continue improving to the point where we can not only hoist the SOC I trophy, but make an even farther tournament run.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7