Brown an All-American girl, program icon at St. James
It officially began when Lauren Brown was just a girl at camp.
It was the summer of 2006, and Brown was an incoming freshman at the St. James Academy volleyball team camp. That week was the first time Brown got to show her stuff to Thunder coach Nancy Dorsey and begin to prove her worth among players a year older and loaded with talent.
Brown held her own and caught Dorsey’s attention.
“I got to see her play with the girls we already had returning, and I was impressed,” Dorsey recalled. “I thought she would be a good addition.”
Brown proved to be a remarkable addition. During the next four years she helped the Thunder reach three straight Class 4A state title games, won two state championships and became an All-American.
In addition to her extensive list of honors and accolades, Brown also is The Shawnee Dispatch’s Female Senior Athlete of the Year for St. James Academy.
When Nancy Dorsey saw Lauren Brown on the court for the first time in the summer of 2006, Dorsey was impressed. Still, she wasn’t sure exactly what role Brown would play. A year earlier, Dorsey didn’t even know if she’d have enough players to field a team. Now in the school’s second year, she was continuing to piece together a roster.
Dorsey knew Brown would fit in somewhere, and a few weeks into the season the team made a transition that altered the future of the program. The Thunder’s usual starting setter was sidelined with a medical issue, so Dorsey threw Brown and sophomore transfer Rachel Gray into the fire at a tournament in Wichita.
“We had lost a couple games to some 5A and 6A teams in pool play,” Dorsey remembered, “and we made some changes in one of (the games). We decided to play Lauren and Rachel in a 6-2 (offense), and it was like ‘holy cow!’ These girls just came to life. They just played awesome and we ended up winning our next two matches with that lineup.”
With that, the St. James juggernaut began, and Brown had a permanent place in the starting lineup.
“That was kind of the first time we really saw the Lauren who obviously was a huge part of our program,” Dorsey said. “She just kind of did it all from there on out.”
Brown helped St. James advance to the Class 4A substate championship match that season before the school’s first season of varsity volleyball came to an end with a 30-10 record.
The Thunder built on their solid 2006 season by taking the state by storm in 2007. They steamrolled most of their opponents on their way to a 45-0 start. A state championship seemed like a foregone conclusion until the Thunder fell apart in game two of the state finals against Topeka Hayden and ultimately lost.
One year after suffering a season-ending loss that didn’t really sting, this one felt like a dagger through the heart.
“Up to this day that’s as upset as I’ve ever been about a volleyball game, and it may be the most upset I’ve ever been at anything,” Brown said.
Just like the moment the Thunder rolled out Brown and the 6-2 offense a year earlier, the loss turned into a moment that would help shape the program’s future.
A DYNASTY IS BORN
When Brown and her teammates filled out goal sheets at the start of her freshman year, she wrote down that she wanted to win a state championship. At the time, she knew it was a long shot for the fledgling program. The breakout season in 2007 showed just how realistic that dream was, and in 2008 it became a reality.
St. James compiled another 45-1 season, and this time the Thunder annihilated the competition at the state tournament and hung a championship banner. They finished the season ranked No. 4 in the nation.
Thanks to a senior class full of vibrant personalities, Brown was able to quietly lead by example. She focused on being a positive teammate, a good passer, a reliable hitter and a loyal fighter who would help the school’s first class of seniors go out as champions.
She was named to the Class 4A All-State team and All-State Tournament team.
In 2009, it was time to do it all over again while replacing the all-star cast that made everything look easy the year before.
For the first time in her career, Brown had to speak up, be forceful and take control of her team.
“I can’t imagine she didn’t feel a little bit of pressure,” Dorsey said of the responsibility. “But she stepped up and did a really good job. Part of being a leader is being respected by your peers, and you have to be believable. She’s super-believable because she’s genuine and she’s been there since we started with varsity. She was there when we went 45-1 and lost in the finals, and she was there when we won it all.”
St. James played its typical gauntlet schedule and suffered four losses, but with Brown running the show the team jelled and rolled back into the state tournament. The Thunder reached the final four with ease, but then they nearly had a repeat performance of their 2007 collapse. Topeka Hayden dominated game one of the finals. The Thunder trailed again in game two before using an 8-0 run to take charge. Brown dished assists to her top hitters during that span and then closed the game with a kill.
In game three, she found Hanna Forst for a couple kills, fired an ace and then dished one last assist to Morgan Voorhes to close out a 40-4 season and a second straight championship.
Brown not only helped take St. James from the ground floor to the top, but she stayed at the summit for a second straight season.
All-State and All-State Tournament Team honors followed, as did All-American honors from Prep Volleyball. Brown went on to sign with Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.
Brown’s St. James story ends back where it began, with a girl at camp. This time, however, it’s not the player who went on to become her school’s all-time leader in assists and aces and finished second in block assists, third in solo blocks and third in digs.
This time, it’s the girl at camp watching Brown — or, more accurately, many girls. When asked about Brown’s legacy at St. James, Dorsey doesn’t mention the record books or the championships. Those things speak for themselves. Instead, she looks to the next generation of volleyball players who will play for St. James.
“I don’t know if Lauren would even know this or if any of the girls that have come and gone would know this,” Dorsey shares, “but the little girls that come to our camps and our games … they know her. They say ‘Oh, Lauren Brown, she’s the setter for St. James.’ They think she’s really cool, and those girls will one day come to our school and our program and she’s the kind of girl they’ll aspire to be.
“She’ll have people chasing her stats and chasing her career. I don’t think she’s ever thought about it that someone would come to St. James wanting to have a career like Lauren Brown. She doesn’t think that way, but that’s how it’s going to be.”