By Brad Fauber
STEPHENS CITY -- First-year coach Mike Marsh knew when he took over the Sherando girls basketball program that he was inheriting some players who could hit the outside shot. And he knew that junior Heidi Brown was one of them.
But what Marsh really needed from the 6-foot forward was someone who could pull down rebounds and provide an intimidating defensive presence in the paint to complement her jump shot.
"I knew [Brown] was going to come back and be a real solid offensive player for us," Marsh said. "I knew that she had to do a lot of work -- she was not expected to be a big rebounder for the team. The team is built a little different, but I needed her to be a solid rebounder. I needed her to be a real solid defender, and she's worked hard to turn into a defender. She's averaging four-plus blocks a game. She's just comfortable with it now."
All three facets of Brown's game came together last week in the three-day Maroon and Gold Classic at Broad Run High School.
In the Warriors' first game of the tournament, the junior hauled in 13 rebounds. The next night Brown led Sherando in points. And in the tournament finale, Brown was an imposing presence in the middle of the Warriors' 2-3 zone in a low-scoring battle with Yorktown that ended with Sherando claiming the tournament championship.
Brown, The Northern Virginia Daily's Female Athlete of the Week for the week of Dec. 22-28, was named the tournament's most valuable player.
"It means a whole lot to me, but obviously I couldn't have done it without my team," Brown said of her MVP award. "They put me in good situations, which helped a lot."
Sherando, which entered last Thursday's first-round game against South County with a .500 record, picked up some nice momentum going into Northwestern District play with a sweep of the eight-team tournament, and Brown was there to help lead the Warriors every step of the way.
In the opening round against South County -- one of two 6A schools, including Yorktown, that Sherando beat in the tournament -- the Warriors had to grind out a tough 42-34 win. Brown finished with seven points to go along with her 13 rebounds.
"She's not always doing it offensively, but she always finds a way defensively and rebound-wise to get good numbers," Marsh said.
Brown's offensive capabilities emerged in the semifinal game against John Champe last Friday, as she erupted for a season-high 19 points as Sherando cruised to a 50-26 win to qualify for the tournament championship game.
"She's getting more comfortable in finding the rhythm of the offense," Marsh said of Brown, who has scored at least 15 points in three of Sherando's last five games. "When different players move on, other players have to assume roles, and you can't make someone become that shooter. They have to move into it. Slowly our shooters are finding their niche."
Most of Brown's offensive output against John Champe came in the first half, as the junior scored 17 of her 19 points in the first two periods. She also provided a spark for Sherando in the second period, as she hit three straight 3-pointers to help the Warriors build a 31-14 halftime lead.
"Those couple 3-pointers just gave me motivation," Brown said. "My shooting is starting to come back, because at the beginning of the season I was struggling. But I think I found my sweet spot."
There was little offense from either side in the tournament championship game on Saturday, as both Sherando and Yorktown struggled with fatigue and aggressive defenses from both sides. But it was the Warriors' 2-3 zone defense that made the difference in a 29-28 win, and Brown was right in the middle of it. She finished with seven points and 10 rebounds, but her six blocks and solid defensive play may have been the most important.
"The way we play our defense, she has a lot of chances to be on the help side, which gives her a chance to get blocked shots," Marsh said. "And of all the blocked shots she has, she probably has triple that in redirected shots just because people try to shoot around her. She's just so long. She's not a great jumper, she's just playing smart."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD