Jake Brown's initiation to the Creighton soccer program featured its share of rough moments.
Brown joined the Bluejays last spring — transferring from Saint Louis University, where he had started 29 games in his first two seasons. At Creighton, Brown found himself playing with the backups much of the spring.
That left the defender trying to keep up with Ethan Finlay, Dion Acoff and Jose Gomez. No easy task, even for a guy with the athleticism of the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Brown.
"I'm trying to impress the coaches, and I'm getting chased down by Ethan and those other guys,'' Brown said, laughing. "That made me a better player, but a guy like Ethan, who never stops working, is a defender's worst nightmare.
"It wasn't an ideal situation, but it's paying off now.''
After starting the season as a reserve, Brown moved into the starting lineup for the unbeaten Bluejays' past three games. The center back earned the Missouri Valley's defensive player of the week award after playing every minute in his first two starts against Fordham and DePaul.
Brown's emergence has solidified third-ranked Creighton's already stellar back row that has helped the Bluejays post shutouts in their first six games. Creighton will try to extend that streak Wednesday in a 7 p.m. match at Morrison Stadium against a No. 22 Kentucky team that ranks second nationally in scoring.
Creighton coach Elmar Bolowich isn't surprised that Brown has played his way into the starting lineup.
"I had a conversation with him at the end of the spring and told him that athletically there wasn't anything that should keep him off the field,'' Bolowich said. "It was more or less a question of focus that he'd bring to the position and how hard he was willing to work at it.
"I think that resonated with him. In our last game, he didn't play his greatest, but what I liked was that he was totally into it. He was organizing players in front or him and next to him. He took initiative, and you could see that he really wanted to perform.''
Brown grew up in Omaha. He was a starter as a sophomore on Millard North's 22-0 state championship team in 2007.
Prior to his junior season, Brown decided to transfer to Shattuck-St. Mary's, a boarding school in Faribault, Minn. The school is renowned nationally for its hockey and soccer programs.
"My club team played Shattuck one year in the fall and then in the spring,'' Brown said. "I saw an improvement in every one of their players. You train five days a week against some of the best kids in the nation. Our training sessions were a lot of times harder than our games.
"When I first got there, I was treading water against some of those players. I came out of there two years later the program MVP for my senior class. I had to leave my friends here and my club team to go there, and it was a big sacrifice. But I knew what I wanted to do, and I wanted to make that sacrifice.''
Then-Creighton coach Bob Warming tried to recruit Brown out of Shattuck, but he decided to attend Saint Louis. He started 29 of the 31 matches he played for the Billikens in his two seasons there, scoring one goal and recording three assists.
After last season, Brown decided he wanted to transfer closer to home. He enrolled in early January but received a shock when Jamie Clark, the coach for whom he thought he would be playing, took the head coaching job at Washington.
A month later, Creighton lured Bolowich from North Carolina.
"He came in, and we all had to prove ourselves,'' Brown said. "We all started at the same place with him.''
Brown called getting a chance to play for Creighton a "dream come true.''
"I remember coming to games when I was 5 and watching Johnny Torres play,'' said Brown, referring to the Bluejays' assistant coach. "I always wanted to play here.''
Brown got no argument from his parents when he informed them that he was considering a transfer to Creighton. Steve and Colleen Brown had made the seven-hour drive to St. Louis to watch their son play every home game.
"It's a lot easier for them now,'' he said. "Plus, I get my grandma to every game now. She's always bragging to all her friends about me.''
NOTES: Creighton remained third in the coaches' poll but received one first-place vote. Maryland, which hosts the Bluejays on Sept. 30, received 22 first-place votes to retain its hold on the No. 1 spot. No. 2 Connecticut received the other first-place vote. . The Bluejays remain first in the Midwest Region, with Kentucky (6-2-1) right behind. The Wildcats play soccer as an affiliate member of Conference USA. . Creighton leads the nation in every defensive statistic and also is 14th in total points per game (2.33) and 20th in goals (14).
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