Coach Vicki Brown on weathering the ‘stress’ of a viral threat

(Brian Ray/ Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Vicki Brown (lef) against the Michigan State Spartans Friday, March 26, 2021, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The pandemic has flipped college sports literally and virtually upside down since last spring. Volleyball finished its 2021 season earlier this month instead of last fall. HBCU football is now underway as well. The MSR in separate interviews spoke to Iowa Volleyball Coach Vicki Brown and Hamline Football Coach Chip Taylor on how they have handled the topsy-turvy world of sports under a viral threat.

The Big Ten’s first pandemic-influenced season is completed. Minnesota will begin their NCAA Tournament play April 15 as the third overall seed. This is the first time the tournament is being held during the spring.

Iowa’s 2021 season concluded April 2-3 at Minnesota after being swept 3-0 in consecutive matches and finishing with a 4-16 record. The Hawkeyes missed two matches due to COVID-19 protocols.

Second-year Head Coach Vicki Brown told the MSR that the season for her players was challenging and forced adjustments just as it was for virtually everyone playing sports these days. Especially academically—her players for the most part took their classes on line and not in the classroom.

 “You see the extra stress on the court,” Brown said. “I think it’s more academic frustration seen on the court this year.”

The Hawkeyes were mostly young, and too often this showed as they tried to stay competitive in a very competitive Big Ten, one of the nation’s top volleyball conferences. The final scores, Brown added, often didn’t tell the complete story and the matches weren’t “a complete wipeout.”

 “Everyone in this conference is tough,” said Brown. “Your job is to stop them.”

Brown is one of three Black female head coaches in the Power 5 conferences; Michaela Franklin (Clemson) and Marci Byers (Virginia Tech) are the others. According to the NCAA, there are only 16 Black head women’s coaches in Division I in 2019. Black colleges have more—all 10 SWAC coaches are Black women.

Diversity in volleyball over the years has maintained a snail’s pace: an increase of two Black HCs from 2012 (25) to 2020 (27). But Black female players over the same time have seen their numbers growing more significantly, from 609 in 2012 to 862 in 2020. 

Brown easily recalls her college days as a twice All-Big Ten honorable mention at Illinois during the mid-2000s “seeing me and another Blacks” on the court, she said. 

After playing pro ball overseas, Brown moved into coaching several years ago. “I use my platform” as a head coach to hopefully influence other Black females to try coaching after their playing career comes to an end. “Women seeing other women, and the more women coaches you see” will help improve the sport’s diversity, she said. 

Without a typical spring to work on individual and team development, Brown is looking to a normal fall season later this year. Hopefully.

“The things I see my team [doing well] do take time,” the Iowa HC concluded. “I’m looking forward to [fall] 2021.”

More volleyball…

Minnesota opposite hitter Stephanie Samedy was a unanimous selection for this year’s Big Ten Player of the Year. She was among three Black team members who also were honored by the conference.

Samedy, a four-time all-conference selection, averaged a league-best 4.11 kills per set and 4.63 points per set, a team-best 259 kills and hit .278. The senior became the first Gopher since 2011 to post 20-plus kills and 20-plus digs in a single match this season.

Freshman Taylor Landfair (first team) and junior Adanna Rollins (second team) joined Samedy as All-Big Ten team members. Landfair also made the conference all-freshman team.

Landfair averaged three kills per set, led the Gophers in kills five times this season, and posted 11 double-digit kill performances. Her 186 kills are second on the team, and she was twice honored as Big Ten Freshman of the Week during the season.

Rollins was third on the team with 158 kills, averaged 2.63 kills per set, and 171 digs.