[ 2004 OLYMPICS ]

Bown taking power game
to Athens

The former UH middle blocker tees off
on the rest of the U.S. team

This is the ninth in a series on people with local ties taking part in the Olympic Games in Greece. Tomorrow's story will be on Stein Metzger.

Four years have done little to change Heather Bown. The Hawaii All-American can only see the negative in her game. Everybody else can only talk about the positive.

The 6-foot-3 middle blocker still poses physical danger to opponents on a volleyball court. Off the court there is a sweetness that runs deep within the bubbly Bown, who is usually self-deprecating about her play.

Hawaii Olympian

The Bown File

Sport: Volleyball

Competition dates: Aug. 14-28 (even-numbered days)

Birthdate: Nov. 29, 1978

Birthplace: Orange, Calif.

Residence: Irvine, Calif.

College: University of Hawaii

Tie to Hawaii: Played for the Rainbow Wahine from 1998-99, was a first-team All-American both years

Fun Fact: Bown is fluent in Italian and conducts radio and TV interviews in that language.

Did you know? Bown was a swimmer in high school before switching to volleyball. She made the change her junior year after UH associate coach Charlie Wade discovered Bown when she was picking up former Wahine Jessica Sudduth from club practice. She sat on the bench her senior season and was recruited to UC Santa Barbara, where she was All-Big West for two seasons.

"Because I don't see from the outside, I see it from the inside and I see all the things I still need to work on," Bown explains. "It seems like the list is just as long as it was four years ago."

Back then, a 21-year-old Bown was among the youngest members on the 2000 Olympic team and just six years into playing the sport. Bown was a swimmer until she was 15, when she was discovered by Wahine associate coach Charlie Wade when stopping by a friend's volleyball practice.

Bown may have gotten to volleyball late, but she has played a brilliant game of catch-up. The quick, brawny Bown puts the ball down with authority, and her substantial block has gotten better as Bown has become more adept at reading opposing setters.

USA national team coach Toshi Yoshida says Bown has the most power on the team. Volleyball can thank swimming for that strength.

"She's probably the strongest player we've ever had in our program," Hawaii coach Dave Shoji recalled. "It really didn't surprise me that she's playing at that level. I didn't think she had any equal in college when she was here as a middle. I had a feeling she could step right in and play internationally.

"The game is so specialized and the team is so strong. She has a role on the team. She's not the go-to (hitter) whereas here she was. Given other circumstances, she would be more offensive-minded."

That part of her game was never in doubt.

Olympic teammate Robyn Ah Mow-Santos said Bown at her best is virtually untouchable. Ah Mow-Santos says Bown was Michael Jordanesque in 2001 and that season Bown was named the best attacker at the NORCECA Zone Championships.

"She would hammer the ball behind the setter and she was getting so much height on it too," Ah Mow-Santos said. "If you could dig one of her balls then you could basically dig anyone."

"I've seen her wow some of the international players on the court," said her father, Skip. "She has a lot more confidence in her ability, but she's always been her worst critic."

Bown is trying not to listen to the criticism coming from her own head. She hasn't played up to potential recently and was in and out of the lineup during the Grand Prix. Bown's grateful for the patience Yoshida has shown her. Ah Mow-Santos points out that it's not Bown's fault. For middles to be effective the two touches of the ball prior need to be perfect.

When they are, look out.

"Sometimes if I can connect real well I can definitely hurt someone," said Bown, without a hint of boastfulness. "Not that I mean to."

She can knock you backward with one whip of her arm. Bown bonked a teammate on the head during a practice two weeks ago. She took off on a slide set, saw the line open and blasted the ball. The shot landed squarely on Stanford's Ogonna Nnamani's head. Bown remembers Nnamani's eyes widening and the stunned look on her face.

"It was hysterical," Bown said. "(Teammate) Keba (Phipps) was making fun of me. She's like, 'anybody else you hit like that, they'd be crying like a baby.' Ogonna just took it for the team.

"That's the kind of ball you don't know if you apologize for. It's a good hit, so do I apologize for making a good hit and you not getting your hands up quick enough? Is it my fault? Is it her fault? It was so funny. ... Of course the 'A' side lost the point cause we were so concerned. That got me pissed off. If you hit somebody on the head, you're supposed to at least win the point."

Shoji says pegging people happened with frightening frequency during the two seasons Bown played for the Rainbow Wahine. He sticks by his statement that Bown hits the ball with the most velocity of anyone in the history of the program.

"She beaned people left and right. People would wince when she hit the ball," Shoji said. "You'd almost want to turn your head before she hit it. ... She has the ability to elevate over the block, so you're not always protected when you're on the back line. She hits a heavy ball. It's coming fast but with a lot of power, too."

Along with a better block and hitting with heavy heat, Bown has added a jump serve to her arsenal. She was third on the U.S. team in aces (19) and blocks (67) last year.

Bown will be in Hawaii next month to visit and vacation before heading back to Italy for another season of professional ball. She envisions being around for the 2008 Olympics and if her body holds up perhaps a run at 2012.

"I'm still a baby in this game when you think about how fast it goes," Bown said. "... It definitely doesn't feel like 10 years in the scheme of things. It's just flown by."

Athens 2004 Olympic Games



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