BOONVILLE - Just hours after the death of former standout volleyball player Meme Brown, the heavy-hearted Lady Rams returned to the court Tuesday night against Alleghany.
A full gymnasium remembered Brown with a moment of silence and a prayer by Melanie Matthews. Donning their black and teal shirts to honor their fallen former player, an emotional Starmount side huddled together with a teary-eyed head coach Jon Symons arm-in-arm before the match.
After shaking hands with the Trojans under the net, each Ram placed their hand against Brown’s retired No. 32 jersey that sits draped over the first seat on the Starmount bench - a place where it will remain throughout the remainder of the season.
An emotionally-charged crowd roared as the Lady Rams took the court and scored three quick points to open the first game. Starmount’s lead grew to 11-4 and out to 16-6. After a 20-7 advantage turned into a 25-11 win in the first set, Symons, the team and the crowd erupted.
“Under the circumstances of tonight, I thought the kids played well. This obviously isn’t an easy circumstance to handle,” Symons said after the match. “You don’t know what will happen on the floor, but I thought they did a good job. We took care of what we needed to take care of. There’s not much rest for the weary.
After an intense first game, the seemingly-drained Rams struggled to put away a determined Alleghany team in the second set as the Trojans took a 10-9 lead.
Starmount rebounded and grabbed a 17-12 advantage, but Alleghany stormed back to tie things up at 19-19. From there, the teams traded points until reigning conference player of the year and anchor Ashton Gregory recorded a thunderous kill to put the Rams up 2-0 with a 25-22 win.
After the pesky Trojans took a 6-4 lead in the third game, an unlikely hero in Alli St. John, filling in for Sydney Caudle, put the team on her back and served Starmount to 15-straight points as the Rams took control at 19-6.
Senior Erin Barr then recorded three-straight aces to bring Starmount on the brink of a 15th-straight conference sweep this year at 24-9. But once again, Alleghany battled back, cutting the lead to 24-14.
As a final serve by the Trojans hit the net, the Rams were able to breath a sigh of relief as they closed out the first match since the tragic death of their former player.
“The level of intensity was not like it was this weekend, there was a difference. It’s hard to sustain that level when you’re heavy hearted like we are,” Symons explained. “But it’s something we’ll get through and hopefully get to keep playing.
“I’ve been a basket case all day, but I got to come out here for a few hours and do this, and it makes my life better because I know she enjoyed it. That’s what we do, we play volleyball,” he continued.
While continuing with “the game Meme loved,” Symons said he, nor the team, will ever forget what Brown meant to the program and the community.
“We’re never going to forget who Meme was and what she means to all of us,” he explained. “It’s such a raw hurt, especially for the younger kids I’m coaching. It’s just hard for them to see me like this, and I’ve hard to do my best to be as least emotional as I can, but when you start talking about it, it bites you. We’ll try to survive what the future holds and hopefully we’ll be able to keep playing and keep playing…that’s the idea.”
At tonight’s football game against Alleghany, in addition to Senior Night festivities, a candlelight vigil will be held for Brown at halftime. Symons said the best way for his team to honor her is to keep playing the game the way she played it - “loud, hard and fun.”
“We play for her, so every night is a tribute to her. And that’s the way I look at it,” he said. “It’s not one event, it’s every night we put those jerseys on that we are playing for her and that’s our tribute. We are going to play the way Meme played, which was loud, hard and fun; which I miss.”
Symons said the thought of not playing based on the circumstances didn’t even cross his mind.
“No. She would have whooped me; that wasn’t going to happen. She would have beaten me up,” he said through a smile. “This is what she loved. If you would have watched that kid when she was playing, you knew she was passionate about this. This is what her world was, and it’s going to be our world now.
“And we’ll continue on and play until we can’t play anymore, which hopefully will be Nov. 3 and 12:30 p.m. in Raleigh,” Symons added.
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.