NEW CASTLE —
Shelby Brown, flustered and teary-eyed, was overwhelmed.
The year was 2010 and Brown, then a sophomore at Mohawk High School, was given starting point guard duties for the girls basketball team.
“A lot of people, when they make mistakes, they get down and they don’t hustle back on defense. They don’t do anything right and they get all mad at themselves. That was my sophomore year,” Brown said. “I was bad at that. I was getting dogged because I was the little point guard. There were times when (teammate) Brooke Shasteen, she was a post player, had to bring the ball up the court because I was in tears. I was a mental wreck my 10th grade year.”
Undersized, outplayed and lacking confidence, it looked like Brown was anything but the answer for the team’s anchor position for the next two seasons.
“She had a lot of struggles, as most sophomores do,” Lady Warriors coach Mike O’Lare said. “She had two options — she could put ball down and give up, or she could get back to work.”
Brown didn’t put her ball down, in fact, it may not have even left her hands for the next two seasons.
Fast-forward to present day. Through those two years of the coaching, the practices, the hard work, the dedication, the heart, the desire, and you’ll get the Shelby Brown of today — all-star, MVP, and this year’s Lawrence County female athlete of the year, as selected by the New Castle News sports staff.
TO THE TOP
Brown didn’t exactly take the WPIAL by surprise this season. Though the game seemed like too much for her at times her sophomore year, she had the talent and the determination to excel. Signs of improvement were visible in her junior season, when she led all of Lawrence County with 77.8 free-throw shooting, established a career high in scoring (11.5 points a game), eighth in the county, and was seventh with 30 3-pointers.
Still, there was something missing. Something that wouldn’t surface for another year.
“The mental aspect from junior to senior year was what separated her,” O’Lare said. “In her sophomore and junior seasons, she had physical limitations she had to work through. It really was a three-year transition for her from sophomore to senior year.”
With a lineup composed of seven varsity seniors, the team’s goal for the 2012-2013 season was a Section 2-AA championship or bust, an objective not reached since 2001.
Mohawk opened play winning seven of its first eight contests with Brown, one of those seniors, quickly establishing herself as a dominant force on the court.
She put up 31 points against Wilmington in a 66-31 victory, swishing six 3-pointers. She added 20, 27 and 23 points against section opponents Neshannock, Laurel and Beaver Falls during that span.
The word was out on Brown, and teams were having difficulty adjusting to her talents.
The girl who left games in tears in her sophomore year, now was leaving her opponents the same way.
“She put in a ton of time to become the player that she is and was this year,” O’Lare said. “A lot of people on the outside might not realize how much other teams game planned for her and how much better she had to play with her shot, touches and giving the ball up. She was also more highly scouted, and teams were trying to shut her down more.”
LIFETIME OF MEMORIES
The real magic didn’t begin for Mohawk and Brown until the playoff season began. An 11-1 regular season mark in section, which earned that elusive section crown, clinched a preliminary-round bye for the Lady Warriors in the WPIAL playoffs. The team edged past Beaver, 45-36, in the first round but lost to Bishop Canevin, 56-44, in the second round.
After a bit of scoreboard watching and finger crossing, Mohawk was able to sneak into the PIAA playoffs with a first-round matchup against Everett at Pitt-Johnstown.
Having dealt with the emotions and the real possibility of never suiting up for the Lady Warriors again after the loss to Bishop Canevin, Brown and her teammates had to get their game faces back on and take advantage of their new-found life.
If she was going to perform well in her first state game, Brown would have to do it without two of her biggest fans.
“It was hard for me mostly because my parents (Linny and Brenda Brown) were down in Florida watching my sister (Westminster College star Chelsea) play softball. They had tickets early to come home and see my first state game. Their flight got canceled. It was hard. My dad never missed a game,” an emotional Brown said. “Coach O’Lare came up to me before the game, when we were doing pre-game warmups, and grabbed me to the side and said that he knew they have been there for me every game and that he knows they followed me, but he said not to worry and play for yourself this game. You’re a good enough player and play for yourself and don’t worry about it, and don’t let it worry you. He said I need to be tough about this.”
Showing resolve, Brown boarded the team bus home with 27 points and a black eye after a 52-44 victory, the first state win for the program since 1983.
“My dad told me how coach O’Lare texted him after the game and said he should be really proud of his daughter for doing as well as she did without her parents there,” Brown said. “Winning that game was awesome. We had never done that for so many years.”
Brown added 25 in a 56-49 decision over North East in the second round, a performance O’Lare believes to be the best game Brown has ever played.
“She was just fantastic that game,” he said. “When everything is on the line and her career can be over, she’s playing like that.”
With North East pressing to spoil a late Lady Warriors’ lead with a barrage of six-straight 3-pointers, it was Brown’s steady free-throw shooting, she went an incredible 16 of 18, that sealed the win.
That victory put Mohawk into the state’s final eight. Students, teachers and fans started to feel the fever. More than 300 showed up at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House, site of the Lady Warriors quarterfinal-round matchup against Seton-La Salle.
“It was a great feeling. Coach put up a couple of goals at the beginning of the year,” Brown said. “The first one was to win section, then to get into the playoffs, go as far as you can go there, make the state playoffs and then ride the wave. When we got to the state playoffs, we were all like this is unreal. Nobody has done it in 30 years. It’s been so long since the school has seen the team go that far.”
The ride came to an end with a 73-45 loss to the Lady Rebels that night. Brown had a team-high 15 points. Mohawk finished the season 19-8.
She averaged nearly 22 points a game in the team’s state playoff run with the challenge of added scouting, added pressure and better opponents on the other side of the court.
“That’s really the mark of a player —what they do in crunch time and when their season is on the line, not just in the middle of January,” O’Lare said. “It’s what they do in the state playoffs and big games at the end of the year.
“That’s what she did. She got better and better and wanted to win so bad.”
Brown finished the season as the county’s top scorer with 17 points a game, placed second in free throw-shooting at 79.2 percent and was runner-up in 3-pointers with 41. She also earned section MVP honors and a first-team nomination.
“I felt like I had accomplished my goals that I had set for myself the last couple of years. I owe a lot to coach O’Lare and Bill McNees. I go to him for private lessons. I went to him after my freshman year, and I’ve been working with him over the summer for the last four years. He switched my game up, switched my shot up and switched my mentality for the game. If I didn’t have O’Lare to push me toward those goals, I remember him showing me a list at the beginning of this year of the top players in the WPIAL, and I wasn’t on that. He said that this is my goal and I need to be on that list. I owe a lot to them and being that far up in the county. They pushed me to that.”
NOT OVER YET
With the dream run over, Brown quickly had to shed her basketball jersey and prepare for the softball season — a transition that was easier said than done.
“I didn’t touch a softball, I didn’t touch a bat, I didn’t touch a glove until literally we lost in state. A week after that, I picked a glove up. It was so weird,” she said. “I had no time to prepare. We all walked in the gym and we were just like, you’ve got to be kidding me. Half of the softball team were basketball girls. When we walked in that gym, it was just like everybody’s face was down and we were just so sad. We couldn’t believe we were playing softball. We were so used to playing basketball. None of us got to prepare. We all thought it was going to be a lot worse than it ended up being.”
The season turned out to be a success for the Lady Warriors on the diamond as Mohawk finished the season 14-4. It lost to Chartiers-Houston, 8-4, in the WPIAL Class AA quarterfinals.
“She was always ready to come and play the game. She was always there to give 110 percent either offensively or defensively,” Lady Warriors softball coach Pam Beatty said of Brown. “She just matured and the confidence she had was great. That helps out a lot.”
After batting as the team’s leadoff hitter last season, Brown made the move to third in the order and thrived. She earned an all-star bid with 27 hits, a .415 average, 23 RBIs and a home run.
“We tried to get her to use more of her power,” Beatty said. “We played some pretty good pitchers, and she made the adjustments and got the key hits.”
Improving on her defense at shortstop was a point of emphasis for Brown in her final season.
“I wanted to be able to have less errors in the field, because I knew I was going to return as a shortstop. I wanted to make sure I didn’t make many errors as a senior, because I wanted to be a role model. Our whole infield is leaving because we’re all seniors. I wanted to set the example for the underclassmen to show them you need to step up and be ready to play next year when we’re all gone.”
Of course, incentives help. A sweet treat was promised for Brown and second baseman Devon Giancola if they could show some fancy glove work and turn a double play during the season.
“We’ve been second baseman and shortstop since our sophomore year. We’ve been close that way and we always try to make those double plays because our one coach, coach Hruska, said if we turn a double play, we get ice cream anywhere we wanted.
He never paid up, though,” Brown added with a laugh. “We had two double plays in one playoff game. He never paid us. I was pretty mad.”
Brown will attend the University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio, in the fall and major in marketing while playing on the women’s basketball team. She prefers to attribute her successes to those who helped get her there — her family, coaches, peers and Chelsea, who pushed her in competition along the way. Chelsea Brown was a star pitcher for Mohawk and recently finished a successful collegiate career at Westminster.
“It was always that kind of thing where, secretly, I was always trying to one-up her,” Shelby said. “She’s my inspiration though. She pushed me to do what I’ve done.”
What Brown’s done is impressive enough. Still, if her transformation from a shy, easily-flustered sophomore to the top girls athlete in the county in just two seasons is any indication, the best is yet to come.
THE SHELBY BROWN FILE
PARENTS: Linny and Brenda Brown
FAVORITE SONG RIGHT NOW: Mike Stud — Kids
KOBE OR LEBRON? LeBron
LEBRON OR MICHAEL JORDAN?: Michael Jordan
GAME-WINNING 3-POINTER OR GAME-WINNING GRAND SLAM?: 3-pointer. “That rush is just amazing.”
IF YOU WERE ON A DESERTED ISLAND AND COULD BRING ONE THING, WHAT WOULD IT BE?: Arnold Palmer Iced Tea. “It’s iced tea, so it has water in it, but it’s good for you because it tastes good. I’d bring enough Arnold Palmer to last me until I get off the island.”
FAVORITE BASKETBALL PLAYER AND WHY: Mason Plumlee, Duke Blue Devils. “He’s strong. He’s smart when he’s on the court. He has a nice hook shot. He’s a good leader for Duke, and I love Duke.”
FAVORITE BASEBALL PLAYER AND WHY: Travis Snider, Pittsburgh Pirates. “I’m big Bucs fan. I have to go with Lunchbox. He’s been hitting the crap out of the ball and he’s a good outfielder.”
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU CAN’T STAND?: “People driving under the speed limit. That’s one thing I can’t stand. If you’re going 5- or 10-under, there’s something wrong.”
NEW CASTLE —
Shelby Brown, flustered and teary-eyed, was overwhelmed.
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