by C. Jemal Horton

On or off the field, Providence Day star has knack for seeing things through

Hours before playing in her final home game on April 27, Austin Brown made a vow: She absolutely was not going to cry.

The greatest player in the Providence Day girls lacrosse program’s history wasn’t going to shed a tear just because it was Senior Night and her parents would be there and it would be the final time she played in Overcash Stadium with her little sister, Cassie. No way, no how.

“I think I might get a little choked up, but I’m not one to cry over stuff like this,” said Brown, a senior midfielder who’s scored 300 career goals and led the Chargers program to new heights.

“This definitely will be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, playing the final game on my home field with my sister,” she added. “But, nah, I definitely won’t cry.”

And here’s what just about anyone who encounters Brown knows about her: When she vows do something – or not do something – she usually sticks to it.

That’s the way Brown has gone about her business since she was a 3-year-old who aspired to one day terrorize area baseball leagues with her big brother, Read. She did just that, eventually joining Read on coach-pitch and Little League teams coached by their dad, Stu, and excelling against many boys who went on to become college prospects.

But when Brown walked away from the baseball diamond for good at 11 years old, her dad knew it wasn’t because she felt she couldn’t play at a higher level; it simply was because her task was complete and she’d found a new passion.

“She’d been around baseball all her life,” Stu said, “and then it was as if she said, ‘OK, that’s enough. I’ve done what I need to do, and now it’s time to move on to more of a girls sport.’ And when she took up lacrosse, (the family wasn’t) surprised that she was good at that, too.

“She’s just a very driven young lady.”

That drive helped Brown develop as a lacrosse player much faster than most of her peers. As a seventh-grader, Brown was good enough to earn a spot on a travel team – a high school travel team called Team Charlotte. From the start, it seemed, she had tremendous field vision, which helped her score goals in bunches. She could anticipate things and shut down her opponents.

“I had a passion for lacrosse that I didn’t have for other sports,” she said. “I loved scoring, I loved playing lacrosse because my best friends played, so that made me want to stick with it and continue getting better. That’s all I ever wanted to do, and I got my heart set on playing in college.”

But as Brown entered her freshman season on the 2009 Providence Day squad, playing college lacrosse was an opportunity few girls in the Charlotte area were afforded. For one, lacrosse still was viewed by many as a “northern sport,” and college recruiters often looked to states such as Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey to build their rosters.  For Brown, the college-playing challenge was even more daunting because Providence Day’s girls program was struggling in just its third year of existence.

Brown, however, wasted little time making a name for herself and, consequently, her team.

As a ninth-grader, Brown tossed in 68 goals and added 35 assists while helping the Chargers to eight wins and a state playoff berth. The next year, Providence Day also won eight games with Brown totaling 69 goals and 25 assists. Last year, the Chargers battled through a 2-12 campaign, but Brown still managed to be spectacular, finishing with a whopping 79 goals and 18 assists.

This year, Providence Day has a 9-6 record, which is the best in program history, and Brown again has been the catalyst, leading the team with 71 goals, 31 assists, 60 groundballs and 48 takeaways. And in addition to reaching the 300-goal plateau, Brown recently registered the 400th point of her career. Those numbers, Chargers coach Lily Robinson said, would be impressive at any lacrosse program.

“I feel like she’s been everything to this program,” Robinson said. “I first came here in 2008 as an assistant, and we were so excited to have her as a freshman. She’s been a leader from Day 1. She’s been our top scorer and top five in scoring in the state every year. She’s gotten all-conference, all-state (and made) national tournament teams. But most of all, she’s just been excited about it, and she’s gotten other people excited about it.

She’s dedicated. She’s come to every practice, and she’s started in every game. I feel honored to be coaching her.

“Austin’s just a unique person.”

How unique? Brown probably is one of only a few girls in the Charlotte Independent Schools Athletic Association who’s shot and killed a deer.

That’s right: Brown and her sister, Cassie, are hunters – good ones.

Brown said she and her brother began going on hunting excursions with their father when she was about 5.

“I probably shot my first gun at 9 and my first deer at 10,” she said. “I loved that! We were out on a friend’s plantation, and when you kill your first dear, they do a big celebration for you. That was a lot of fun.

“At first, I think (people) are a little shocked when they hear that about me. But then they realize that that’s just what I like to do, and they’re cool with it.”

What’s the biggest deer she’s ever shot?

“An eight-point buck, and I have it hanging in my house right now,” she said proudly.

Brown’s family lives on a rural stretch of land in Fairview, a small town near Mint Hill and Indian Trail, and that “makes it easy to just go out the back door and shoot every once and a while,” her dad said.

“That’s why I never like to shoot with Austin or her younger sister because they’re better shots than me – they actually practice,” Stu Brown said with a laugh.

But for Brown, it’s not just about the thrill of the kill.

“The thing I enjoy most is spending time with my dad,” she said. “My mom (Lisa) takes me to all my lacrosse tournaments, so I get to spend a lot of time in the car and at tournaments with her. My dad coaches baseball in the summer, so going hunting is when he and I get to spend time with each other.”

Her coach said it’s yet another thing that makes Brown special.

“She comes from a really close, loving family, and they do everything together,” Robinson said. “Once, I asked her what she did over her Christmas break, and she said, ‘I chopped wood with my dad.’ Most students are not doing that type of thing, but that’s just the type of girl Austin is.”

Brown likely inherits her competitive spirit and athleticism from her dad, who played baseball at the University of Richmond with former major-leaguer and NFL player Brian Jordan in the 1980s. But her mother was an accomplished athlete, too, having played tennis at the University of Massachusetts. In addition, Brown’s brother is a sophomore catcher on the Palm Beach (Fla.) Atlantic University baseball team.

So it didn’t surprise others when Brown made being a college athlete one of her goals, too.

“And she’s one of those girls who, if she sets her mind to something, she’ll run through a wall to accomplish it,” Stu Brown said.

That’s one reason she’ll be playing at Coastal Carolina University soon.

Brown’s first three years of high school lacrosse were good enough to attract the interest of a number of college teams, including Jacksonville (Fla.) University, Rollins College (Fla.), Florida Southern and Belmont Abbey. Each school piqued her interest. Until, that is, she stopped in Conway, S.C., last summer as her family picked up a friend attending basketball camp at Coastal Carolina.

“I fell in love with the school,” she said. “I knew I wanted to go to college close to the beach somewhere – it didn’t really matter where at first. But I just got a feeling when I was at Coastal that that was where I wanted to go. ”

One problem, though: Coastal Carolina didn’t have a lacrosse coach to recruit Brown – because the school didn’t yet have a women’s lacrosse team.

“I started doing research and found out they were going to be starting a team in the fall (of 2012), and they were going to be announcing their coach a few weeks after I had visited the campus,” Brown said. “I kept track of it, and I e-mailed (coach Jaime Sellers) the day her hiring was announced. I told her that I was very interested in playing there and that (the college) was close enough to home that I could come home if I wanted to but far enough away that my parents couldn’t come every weekend. I kept e-mailing her, calling her, going down for visits, and she liked that.

“I like being the one who pushes for things to be done. I was going to do whatever I had to do to go play there.”

Brown is excited heading into the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association playoffs, which begin on Saturday, May 12. The 2012 season, as a whole, already has been special, partly because of the Providence Day resurgence but especially because Brown’s been able to play with her sister, a talented freshman who ranks third on the team with 19 goals. In fact, Brown’s 400th-career point came on an assist to Cassie.

“It means so much to have my sister on the team,” Brown said. “I think she can do everything I can do, and even more, so that pushes me to work even harder. I’m really going to miss her.”

So as the time for that final Senior Night game neared on April 27, the question arose: Would rugged, dear-hunting, hard-throwing Austin Brown cry as she took the field with her family?

“She did not cry,” her father said. “I think she giggled through most of it. I think her mother and I might’ve shed a tear, but she did not.

“She’s a trouper.”

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