Playing goalie on any competitive sports team takes a different kind of mindset.
Most people only remember the goals allowed and one bad play in an entire contest can cause the team to lose, with the goalie often taking the blame.
This means a short memory is a goalie’s best friend, but even the best goalies still can have a mental battle.
Despite the mental challenge of being your team’s last line of defense, whether it be soccer, water polo, lacrosse or hockey, East Bay Athletic League schools have seen their fair share of outstanding goalies come through the ranks.
Erin Brown, the Amador Valley girl's water polo net-minder is the latest, and perhaps one of the best to ever play in the EBAL, certainly in water polo.
“She is the best in Northern California – by far,” said Amador Valley coach Tim Reilly of Brown. “Every team we play is gunning for Erin.”
The 6-foot senior not only has the physical tools but is mentally tough as well.
“It is a different mindset,” said Brown on playing goalie. “You have to realize that you are not going to stop every shot. I can be hard on myself, but I talk it out with our other goalie and she helps me out.”
The mental toughness goes hand in hand with being a successful water polo player. If you have never seen the sport, understand these amazing athletes are not allowed to touch the bottom of the pool. In Brown’s case, she is also not allowed to hold on to the goal at any point.
The training is insane, but Brown loves it.
“Treading water comes natural to me,” said Brown. “I almost forget I am doing it – I could tread water all day. We do a lot of leg work and do things like take five gallon jugs into the pool where we fill them up and then dump them out until they are empty.”
Unlike many other successful athletes at the high school level, Brown has only been playing her trade since her freshman year.
"I started water polo in middle school because my brother was playing. I started playing goalie as a freshman because the JV team didn’t have a goalie,” said Brown. “I fell in love with it. I think it’s more rewarding to block a shot than to score a goal.”
Reilly is amazed at all aspects of Brown’s ability.
“She has so much confidence,” said Reilly. “She loves competition. She was a captain last year as well. The entire team looks to her.”
That Brown has become an elite athlete is of little surprise as the athletic bloodlines are strong in her family.
The family is from Scotland – they moved to the United States when Erin was two – and the parents made their mark athletically.
Gary and Nikki were both successful track and field athletes with Gary running for Scotland in the Commonwealth Games.
Once in the United States, the four siblings began making their marks.
Kirsty (23) played basketball all four years at Amador, before playing at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for another four years. Currently she is playing professionally in England.
Jenna (21) swam for Amador all four of her years as a Don.
Ross (18) is an accomplished water polo player and swimmer for Las Positas College. He will move on to swim at a 4-year school.
“That’s probably the greatest athletic family to ever come through Amador,” said Reilly.
Reilly also added that last spring Brown gave track and field a try for the first time and ended up finishing fifth in the NCS Meet of Champions, just missing out on a spot in the CIF State Track and Field Championships.
The other notable is all the Browns are tall.
Gary is 6-foot-6, Nikki is 5-foot-10, Kirsty is 6-foot-3, Jenna 6-feet, and Ross 6-foot-5.
“We all grew up playing a lot of sports,” said Brown. “When we were younger we heard of a youth swim team and all started swimming.”
Brown was one of the leaders during Amador’s historic run last season.
Along with seniors Lauren Reilly and Gracie Quinn, as well as Brown, the Dons finished 23-5 overall and 7-0 in EBAL playing, giving the school the first ever EBAL title. The team also beat San Ramon Valley for the first time ever, handing the Wolves an 11-5 defeat in league play.
The No. 3 seed in the North Coast Section Open playoffs, the Dons knocked off Redwood 11-4 in the opener before falling to a loaded Campolindo team in the semifinals.
“It was amazing,” said Brown about last season’s success. “I love how it brought the team together. We would hang out and do everything together.”
Last year’s success set higher expectations for this season.
“We lost a lot of players,” said Brown. “But we are taking it one game at a time.”
What about next season?
“I’m still deciding if I am going to play,” said Brown of a collegiate career. “I am getting offers and am thinking of going to college to play with one of my teammates – Evelyn McLaughlin.”
According to Reilly, Santa Clara is heavily recruiting both players, with both figuring to be successful at the next level.