Browne overcomes adversity to help Stanford challenge for national titleBy Mark Soltau November 3, 2011, 5:32 pm
Stephanie Browne and her brother, Scott, her biggest supporter
Stephanie Browne has always been a strong, positive person. Growing up, she adjusted to different countries and states with ease, and has thrived during her four years at Stanford.
Born in Michigan to Bill and Barbara Browne, the family moved often due to her father’s job as a manufacturing consultant, residing in Hong Kong, Indiana, Chicago, and Ohio. When Stephanie was a junior in high school, the family settled in Danville, California, where she attended Monte Vista High for two years.
“We spent four years in Hong Kong,” said her mother. “I remember picking her up after the first day of British preschool. I was waiting outside the gates and her teacher came up and said, ‘Nobody’s ever rained on this girl’s parade.'”
That said, Stephanie’s world was turned upside down last year when her older brother Scott was deployed to Afghanistan. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, he was named a platoon leader and never knew what challenge awaited.
Scott, nearly two years older than Stephanie, has always been tight with his sister. As youngsters, they pushed each other in school and sports, excelling in basketball, swimming, and volleyball, neither backing off. Scott played four years of club volleyball at West Point, while the 6-foot-4 Stephanie was heavily recruited for volleyball and basketball, and chose Stanford, where she has been a standout middle blocker.
Already worried about her brother’s safety, Stephanie’s life changed again on November 5, 2010, when she suffered a potentially career-ending knee injury against UCLA, tearing her ACL and meniscus. Coming into the game, she led the team and ranked 5th in the Pac-10 Conference with 1.13 blocks per game.
“All of last year Scott was in Afghanistan and that was very stressful,” she said. “Hurting my knee so severely just added to my stress level.”
Scott returned home to Danville on leave to be with his sister for the more than 10-hour surgery and helped take care of her. Encouraged by the comeback of former All-America teammate Cynthia Barboza, who returned from a similar injury, Stephanie pushed herself every day.
“I know how hard it is and how isolating it can be,” said Cardinal coach John Dunning. “When you’re part of a team, you’re off on your own a lot and working hard. Nobody really knows everything that you’re going through.”
Dunning has nothing but admiration for the way she has handled adversity. Browne is one of three team captains this year.
“Anybody dealing with either of the things she’s had to deal with in the last year would have their hands full,” he said. “I can only imagine dealing with your brother, who is in constant danger, what that is like.
Ask the Browne family. Following graduation from West Point, they took a boat cruise with 10 of Scott’s classmates. Several have been killed in action.
“Until they’re deployed in a situation where they can be killed, you don’t know what it’s like,” said Barbara. “We just tried to stay connected and be positive. We did have support from other West Point friends.”
Stephanie admitted there were some tough days.
“Communication really depended on where he was located,” she said. “Sometimes he would go on missions for a few days and we wouldn’t be able to hear from him. Usually he would tell us, ‘I’m going to be out for a few days and I won’t be able to talk to you, so don’t worry.’ ’’
Easier said than done.
“My mom, dad, and I were able to e-mail and Skype was available,” said Stephanie. “It was nice to be able to see a person’s face that’s been gone for so long. He was telling me not to stress about mid-terms and volleyball and everything like that.”
Then came the knee injury. Stephanie wasn’t sure if she would ever compete again at the Pac-12 level, but has made steady progress. She’s contributing in every match and has learned to trust her surgically-repaired knee.
“The thing about Steph is she’s very organized,” said Dunning, now in his 11th year on the Farm. “When she has a task in front of her, she applies herself as well as anyone. And so going to rehab and applying herself is just the way she is made. She did a good job, because her knee is holding up really, really well.”
Despite all she was going through, Stephanie graduated Phi Beta Kappa last spring with a degree in political science and a minor in psychology, and is currently working on a master’s degree in sociology.
“I’m not 100 percent sure what I want to do next, but I’m considering law school or business school, something related to athletics,” she said. “Whatever catches my eye or interest.”
First, she would like to help the third-ranked Cardinal win their seventh NCAA championship. Stanford has reached the NCAA Regional Finals four of the past five years and has played in the Final Four 14 times in the last 25 seasons.
“I definitely think we can contend for a national title,” said Stephanie. “We have such great team chemistry. Every day in the gym we work so hard to improve. Everyone is motivated to do well. We’ve been really close the last couple years, so I just feel like it’s momentum building up.”
Not surprisingly, Stephanie has been an inspiration to her teammates.
“The team is very aware of what she has gone through and have a lot of respect for how she’s handled it and what she’s done,” Dunning said. “She’s been through two very tough things and has done an amazing job.”
As for Scott, he’s now stationed in Germany and is likely to remain there until 2013. Stephanie isn’t sure what his future holds, but knows he will be successful.
In the meantime, he remains her biggest supporter.
“He always gives me good advice and tells me not to stress and just relax and not take things for granted,” she said.
After what Stephanie endured last year, no chance of that.