Northeastern didn’t always enjoy such unparalleled volleyball success. Just two seasons prior to coach Tim Brown’s arrival, the Lady Eagles were winless.
Back-to-back 2A state finalist runs and seven conference titles in 14 years can make a lot seem to disappear.
But Brown doesn’t forget the Lady Eagles had to crawl before they could walk, er, fly.
“I knew they hadn’t won many, but convincing them they could win and they could have a good team and a good program, that was the first obstacle to overcome,” Brown said.
Brown has submitted his resignation after 14 seasons at the helm of Northeastern, citing a need for a break after 18 years overall as a head coach. He coached four years at Camden in the 1990s prior to his arrival to NHS.
Under Brown, who had an overall coaching record of 313-77, the Lady Eagles made a steady climb as not just the team to beat in the Albemarle, but one of the state’s best programs.
In his final three years alone, Brown guided Northeastern to three undefeated regular seasons and trips to the state finals in 2010 and 2011, with many opponents having trouble just taking a set off the Lady Eagles.
It’s been a mindset of putting volleyball first that began the transformation of not just quality volleyball at NHS, but across the Albemarle.
“Everybody’s program in the area is a lot better than when I first got involved in volleyball,” Brown said. “When I first started coaching volleyball, almost all of the players were ones that played softball and basketball, and then they
played volleyball as something else to do.
“Whereas today for most of the players, volleyball is their No. 1 sport, and the rest of them that play another sport it’s sort of secondary to them. It’s reversed with the kids that are playing.”
The success might not have even happened without Brown, a former basketball player in high school and college without volleyball experience, giving the sport a chance.
He began his high school coaching career with boys basketball at Camden, and was then given a choice by the principal to coach a second sport: either football as an assistant or volleyball.
“I said I’d rather take the volleyball program, and it was kind of funny,” Brown said. “He asked, 'Oh, you like volleyball?’ and I said, 'I really don’t care for football.’ He said they didn’t win but four games last year, and I said, 'Great, I can’t do any worse.’ ”
Doing better rather than worse, Brown coached the Lady Bruins to a 1A state semifinal berth in 1994 and a perennial tough out in a split 1A/2A conference, when Camden faced larger schools such as then-2As Currituck and Manteo.
His time at Northeastern began when the program was 4A, and was usually at the bottom of the Big East Conference.
There were plenty of eye-opening moments when the Lady Eagles were outmatched against teams that are still 4A, powers such as Greenville Rose and D.H. Conley. Brown sometimes found himself in the now-unusual position of trying to just take sets off those teams.
It wasn’t the transition to the smaller 2A classification that helped Northeastern’s fortunes as much as the commitment from Brown, his assistant coaches, parents and players.
“We got kids going to summer camps, we started putting up summer camps, we started opening up the gym on Friday nights, we started opening it 2-3 nights a week on summer nights,” Brown said. “It was a gradual thing.”
One of those avenues was in club volleyball, which a host of Northeastern players have opted to do for various Virginia Beach, Va. programs, and made it a year-round sport. Most of them are now on the college level after playing at NHS.
Just last year, eight former Lady Eagles were on college rosters.
That’s one of Brown’s highlights from his time on the Northeastern sideline, as well as coaching his daughter in the mid-2000s.
Pasquotank coach Josh Mallory also credits Brown’s teams with helping improve his program and others.
“Definitely since I’ve been here the past six years that’s always been a goal of mine (to beat Northeastern), not just because we’re cross-town rivals, but because of the type of teams that come out of that program and what they do is win championships,” Mallory said. “Our girls want to be a part of that tradition and establish one like that at our school.
“If anything, playing against Northeastern, you really know exactly where you stand as a team, you know where you stand competitively against some of the best teams in the state.
“He definitely made my girls work hard to get to the level where you could say, 'Hey, Pasquotank is just as competitive as Northeastern.’ ”
And the Lady Panthers have improved, finishing second behind the Lady Eagles in the Northeastern Coastal Conference last fall, their best finish in program history.
Brown said he will explore different ways to still help out away from being a head coach.
“I won’t say you’ll never see me again, and I hope you do see me,” Brown said. “I can’t imagine I could go home, prop my feet up and do nothing. I think I wanted to just take a break, and it’s a lot of time and energy you put into it.
“I would love to help with summer camps or go over to the middle schools and helping their programs. I think some of your best coaches should be at the middle schools teaching kids the fundamentals of the sport.”