Raiders star springs back to new heights
After losing one season to pandemic, another to scary medical condition, Brown tops inaugural poll
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Fiona Brown’s stellar play during the 2022 season has earned her the No. 1 spot in the Free Press’s inaugural coaches’ poll honouring the province’s best high school varsity girls volleyball players.
In fact, the 17-year-old from Oak Park would likely have been a lock for comeback player of the year if such an award existed.
Brown, a Grade 12 left side, was a team leader and an offensive force at Oak Park where she led the No. 5-ranked Raiders to a berth in Saturday’s AAAA quarter finals before they were eliminated by the No. 4 Sturgeon Heights Huskies.
Missing out on the 2021 provincial final four was a disappointment to be sure but it was nothing like the adversity Brown had faced in the past two seasons.
She lost her Grade 10 season to the pandemic shutdown and her Grade 11 campaign was wiped out when she developed a dangerous blood clot in her right arm early in the school year.
The treatment for the swelling in her arm included blood thinners and a complete shutdown in the gym.
“It was really scary just because it’s so rare for someone my age to have a blood clot,” says Brown. “That’s why when I went to all the doctors, they didn’t really expect it to be a blood clot…
“I was playing so much volleyball and I also played tennis and badminton with so many overhead motions that my rib kept pressing into my vein.”
Brown, a club volleyball player since she was 14 and a high-level tennis player before that, waited patiently for the go-ahead from doctors before returning to the court.
“I had a lot of time to think when I was out and then once I started up club again, I just had this renewed love for volleyball because I’d been away from it for so long,” says Brown. “And I just knew that I wanted to play.”
Brown’s dedication to her craft and leadership skills have impressed Raiders head coach Craig McKenzie.
“What really strikes me about her is her personality and how she cares about people,” says McKenzie, the school’s varsity girls coach for the past six seasons. “There isn’t a negative thing that comes out of her mouth and anything you asked her to do, she’s like, ‘Yeah, OK.’”
On the court, Brown was undeterred.
“I’ve worked really hard to get it all back once I was able to do activities again,” she says. “I was able to start activity in November-December. I could run. I just couldn’t play volleyball because they didn’t want me getting hit or diving or anything. So I started working out a lot and I gained all my strength back… That’s why this season is just really special for me.”
The 5-foot-9 Brown, once the province’s top-ranked 14-year-old female tennis player, has quickly transformed herself into a university volleyball prospect.
“The only issue that Fiona has with next level is she’s not the tallestm but she makes up for it in speed and she jumps fairly well,” says McKenzie. “University players are getting bigger and bigger these days but my theory is she makes up for it with speed, knowledge and just a pure effort.”
Brown’s twin brother, Daniel, isn’t surprised by his sister’s resilience.
“They had a really good team (in Grade 11) and I could just see how disappointed she was to miss out on a whole season of volleyball,” says Daniel Brown, a left side on Oak Park’s varsity boys’ squad.
“But she’s hard-working and she’s always pushing herself and she’s got a good supporting cast — me and my parents — and we’re able to help her, too.”
Brown is keeping her university options private but says she expects to choose from a couple of scholarship offers in the new year.
“After playing tennis I moved to volleyball and I really love the team aspect of everything because I was so used to an individualized sport,” she says. “I just love the team aspect and I love being coached and being part of a family of girls… Even when I played tennis, I gravitated towards doubles so I would play with my twin brother.”
TUESDAY: The varsity boys’ volleyball top 10.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.