HCU's Sierra back one last time
LAKE BUENA VISTA - Hillsborough County United's Keith Sierra didn't expect to be back at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex as a player again. But a year after walking off the field as a Disney Soccer Showcase champ with HCU's boys under-17 side, he was back with the under-18 version of the side which competed at the showcase Sunday. "I truly didn't know I was going to be playing with my team again," Sierra said. "I just came back from my college season up at Marquette, Coach called me up during the year and said 'We need you for Disney, are you in?' and I was like, 'I can't resist playing another game.'" HCU coach Kelvin Jones said the influence Sierra had on the team as its captain in prior seasons meant if he could bring him back for one last tournament, he was going to make sure it happened."This is his team, he's the captain and the guys love to see him," Jones said. "He was never going to get away." Sierra's experience at Marquette has seen him grow as a player, but has also been valuable to current HCU players like Andrew Buckley and Gil Davis, who along with other members of the team are headed to play in college next fall. "A couple of them like Drew and Gil are going to (the University of Tampa) or other colleges, and they've been asking me for tips on how they can prepare right now and before their season starts, anything they can do before they go off and play at the next level," Sierra said. "I'm always glad to help them out and give them a pointer or two." Buckley said it was great to have his friend back. "I'm just really happy because he was a leader on our team," Buckley said. "He's a great role model to all of us, he's probably the best player on our team, he's always been such a great player and a great friend. For him to go to Marquette just inspired me and all the others, and now we're all going off to college." Panthers' Brownlee to be a Bulldog According to Plant High women's rowing coach Sky Elliott, Panthers coxswain Kristen Brownlee has always been a highly goal-oriented person. "It's always been her goal to be in the most academically challenging situation for her," Elliott said. "The same way that she is goal-oriented in athletics, she is even more so in her athletics. She is very competitive, and she has really made coxing and becoming a better coxswain her priority in the last four years. Since she's been a freshman, it's been the thing she has committed herself to." Last summer, that work resulted in Brownlee attending the U.S. Junior National team training camp, and coxing for the U.S. High Performance team. Next fall, she will do the same thing at Yale, one of the top women's crew programs in the country. Brownlee said the most important thing for her has been absorbing knowledge from everyone. "I've really improved through the help of others," she said. "A lot of it has come from the coxswains on the team who were older than me, and from my boatmates, talking to them and seeing what they think, and doing research and involving myself with the junior national team program, and just getting experience everywhere I can." Now, while still trying to increase her knowledge, Brownlee is also passing it back to the Panthers' crews. Elliott says Brownlee's ability to improve a boat technically, and her leadership off the water, has made her a key part of the Panthers' success. "I can send a boat out with her, and not coach them at all, and when they come back, they will be a better boat," Elliott said. "She is basically a coach on the water, and she's been doing that for the past several years. "She makes a huge effort to bring the team together, varsity and freshmen, set a committed example for the girls on the team. She really cares about the level of commitment and effort that the team has. She really pushes to inspire that drive in them. Those are two things we're really going to miss when she graduates." Before that, though, Brownlee is looking forward to her final spring season with the Panthers. "This fall, we had a fantastic season," Brownlee said. "We won the Head of the Hooch, which was not necessarily expected of us, but I think people are really stepping up and our spring season, we will hopefully repeat as state champion. I don't know if that's going to happen, but I have confidence that we can do it."