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ND Volleyball: Brown draws on time as player to coach

By Conor Kelly | Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Since taking over the reigns as head coach of Notre Dame, Debbie Brown transformed a program that had recorded just five winning seasons in its first 11 years of existence into a Big East powerhouse.

Now in her 21st season at Notre Dame, nine of Brown’s Irish teams have ranked in the AVCA’s final poll.

The involved coach has not only led her players to success in the collegiate realm, but also on the international stage. As the Irish currently sit at 8-6 and appear poised to make a run in the Big East, current sophomore Andrea McHugh is set to join the ranks of Irish players on the U.S. national team.

Brown credits her experience playing both in college and on the international level with helping her relate to her players.

“I think as a coach, being a former player is a huge advantage,” Brown said. “You are able to identify with players, what they’re going through, especially in high-pressure situations. I understand what it’s like to be a student athlete.”

Brown began her playing career at USC in 1976 and led the Trojans to a 72-1 record in her first two years. She left after her sophomore year, during which she won the Mikasa award for the nation’s “best all-around player” for the second year in a row. Brown joined the national team to train full time and captained the squad at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics.

But Brown said that is was her love of the college experience that led her back into coaching after her playing days were over.

“I always thought I’d continue as national team coach,” Brown said. “But I really missed the college atmosphere, being in a department that’s not just about volleyball.”

After six years as head coach at Arizona State, Brown joined the Irish in 1990. Since then, she has amassed a .717 winning percentage, 15 conference championships and 21 NCAA tournament appearances. But Brown said it is more than on-court successes that have kept her at Notre Dame for the last 21 years.

“I think I believe in everything that the University stands for and is trying to do,” Brown said. “The educational experience, campus life, spiritual growth is all so strong here.”

Through it all, Brown said she has always maintained a strong devotion to her players and their needs.

“Whether it’s coming in to watch film or analyze play, my players always come first no matter what I’m doing,” Brown said. “Because when it comes down to it, that’s what we’re really here for.”

Brown’s busy schedule is a juggling act of coaching, program managing and recruiting in a cycle that she said seems never-ending. But, ultimately, Brown said all the hard work has been worth it.

“There can be some pretty late nights in the office,” Brown said. “But it’s what I signed up for.”

 

Contact Conor Kelly at ckelly17@nd.edu