This is the second of what I hope to be many one-on-one’s as I help soccer fans get to know the W-League’s newest team, the Central SC Cobras. Today I had the pleasure of speaking with Claire Brown, who’s been a standout at every level in South Carolina…well every level except the pro level. And there’s only that exception because before 2012, there has never been a pro women’s soccer team in SC. That all changes as the Cobras head into their inaugural year, and they look to make an immediate impact with the help of the fast feet of Claire Brown.
Often we wonder what makes great players great, that’s what we tried to find out with Brown. And for her I think it all begins with her start at age seven, where she got her start with the boys until a girl’s team was available. When I was 7, one of my teachers gave out a flyer to play on the school’s soccer team. I had no clue what soccer was. So I asked my mom and she told me what it was and I decided to give the sport a try. I ended up being the only girl on the team, and then I left to play on a girls’ team for the Lil’ Peles Ebony Soccer Club in Charleston, SC. Claire was a force to be recon with no matter if she was playing with the boys or with the girls.
But playing with the boys had to be tough…right? The physicality, the speed, the power. I mean there is a reason the boys and girls are split after the age of 8, so the playing field is fair. Well, the competition was fair as this girl merged with the boys, she was beating them. Claire reflects on her time playing with the boys. It was cool. I was so used to playing with boys when I was little because I am so competitive. I was always told that boys were better than girls. So I wanted to beat the boys to prove them wrong. I played on a under 12 boys team when my U12 girls team was no longer around. This is where I learned to be stronger, faster and very determined. Some of the boys from the other teams thought I would be weak or terrible, and when their guard was down I would score. That didn’t last long because the word got around throughout the state and coaches would have 2 people on me… and that’s when I would have to work twice as hard to score a goal.Claire would have to get use to the double coverage as that would go on to be the case for the rest of her soccer career. But even with that extra attention it did not seem to trouble her much as she became a starter immediately her freshman year at the perennial South Carolina powerhouse, Wando High School.
Claire was a star athlete in high school playing volleyball, basketball and soccer. She would continue this path until one of the other coaches asked her to choose their sport over soccer. She could not and would not. This left her to focus on soccer alone and she went on to score 148 goals throughout her high school career. What’s the mindset when going into a game when you’re such an elite scorer? Claire breaks it down. To be honest, I had the determination to win because I’m competitive that way. However, I felt that if I’d stayed focus, properly played my position and was a team player then a goal or two would be my reward.Through most of her career, that would be the case as she would prove to be as consistent as she was determined.
Her team would go on to beat many of their competitors by double digits due to that hard work and determination put forth by Claire. This may lead you to wonder, did she have a set number of goals she was looking to score each game, or was she good with whatever fell her way. She explained that it depended on the team she was facing. The better the team, the better she wanted to perform. I wanted to score at least 1 goal but I would end up scoring 1 or 2 in addition.
And after working hard, college teams were stopping by from up and down the east coast. And why wouldn’t they? Claire led her team to a state finals, became the Gatorade Player of the Year, and a list of other accomplishments. But after a lot of thought she decided to stay and play close to home as she signed with the College of Charleston Cougars. Now she was playing D1 and she was certainly getting the competition as she moved to the college game.The level of play in college is faster. In college you must be stronger and physically fit because you’re competing against other physical fit players. And because most of the players are fit, you then have to be there mentally in the game. Meaning, that when you get tired, you have to play smart and make the game easy not only for yourself but for your teammates as well. For example, giving an easy pass or slowing the game down when needed.
But Claire had no problems adjusting to the college level as she was an All-SoCon second team selection her first year, again in her Junior season and moved up to All-SoCon First Team her Senior year. So yes, she adjusted just fine despite what could be a huge setback for most soccer players.
In her junior year the Cougars were matched up with Clemson, and in order to gain more speed in the back, Claire was suddenly switched from forward to a defender. Claire had never played defense before, never even thought about playing anywhere but forward, so what was going through her mind when she was moved to the back? I was thinking, what was the coach thinking because I never played in the back at this level. I was actually nervous. So nervous that I didn’t want any of the forwards to beat me. As I calmed down, I realized that playing this position could be an advantage because I am a trained forward. I was able to predict what the forward was going to do and where the ball was going to be played. Even though, I didn’t have the fundamentals of a defender, I was able to do my part as instructed. Claire was moved to the back to stop Clemson’s elite forward, Deliah Arrington, who went on to play in the WUSA. Although CofC lost, Claire prevented Arrington from scoring and was able to shut her out despite never playing the position.
Because she did so well in the back, her coach kept her there for the rest of her college career, yet she still feels she has a lot to learn despite being named 1st Team All-Conference as a defender, which led me to wonder why? I will always have something to learn whether I’m a forward or defender. Whatever criticism or advice that is given to me, I will take it and do what I have to do to be a help for my teammates and the soccer club. And she has succeeded with that mind set. She continued to push forward, as a defender. But she hasn’t just set back as a defender as she often joins the attack from the back. And despite being placed in the back for her final two years, she finished her college career in the top three in goals scored.
With that said, I asked Claire if she had the urge to return back to the forward position where she also had a lot of success? Sure. I would play up top again, if I was needed. However, if I’m needed in the back then so be it. No matter what position I play, the forward in me will never die. If that means attacking from the back, then that’s what I’ll do. But no matter where I play I will always be a forward. And with the thought that she will be an impact player no matter where she’s position on the field, defenders should look out.
After college Claire went on to work on her career and starting a family, but with that said soccer was never far from her mind. In 2009, she went to play for a pro-am soccer team in Florida (Florida Surge), as there were no pro teams in South Carolina. Her thoughts on returning to a high level of competition after a brief her college career ended show an insight in the now repetitive determination. To be honest, it was a little tough. I was on a 3 year hiatus because I was enjoying married life and then had a baby. It just so happened that I decided to returned to competitive soccer when my daughter was months old. I had a long lasting labor then a C-Section which put a strain on my body. I couldn’t do a crunch even after I healed from my C-Section but I didn’t get discourage. I strolled my baby girl out on the field while I’d train myself. Plus my husband was supportive and trained with me as well which made it easier for me. Before I knew it, I was in a little shape and got a opportunity to play in the WPSL where I began to lose my baby weight and gained my speed back. And play she did. After the 2009 season she was invited to the W-League combine, where all of the WPS coaches came out to scout talent. She went back down to Florida to show her skills.
On her time at the combine. It was nice. It brought back memories of the days I played in ODP trying to showcase my talents for scouts. I also made some Facebook friends in the W-League (lol) being that I never got out after giving birth to my daughter.
After having to travel to a different state to play at a higher level, I asked Claire what it meant to get to play in your home state (South Carolina) in the W-League? I am really excited. I feel that it’s been a long time coming for a women’s pro team in SC and to be a part of the 1st PRO-AM is amazing. I’m always led back to my home state when it comes to playing soccer whether its High School, ODP or College. I can’t wait to perform for the people of SC. I want little girls from all over SC to know that soccer is truly here in the state and that they could make it far in soccer if they allow themselves. Claire finally gets that opportunity to play professionally in SC as the Cobras will participate in the Southeast division for the W-League.
As Claire heads into the 2012 season as a member of the Central SC Cobras, she has several goals in mind. To offer my skills to the team. Be a team player and to have a winning record. But definitely a Winning Record. LOL. Claire will get opportunity to reach all her goals and more. The Central SC Cobras will kick off May 12 against VSI Tampa.
For more information on the Claire Brown and the rest of the Central SC Cobras, visit their official site or follow them on twitter.