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Aaryan Patel, a freshman captain on the Clarksburg (Md.) High School boys' volleyball team this spring, was named the U.S. Army Impact Player of the Month.
Clarksburg head coach Dawn Dickinson nominated Patel for the award.
"I thought it was the fact that the older kids elected him as captain of the team as a freshman. I think [that] says a lot for the respect that the kids have about him, plus the fact that he's a perfect 4.0, straight-A student," Dickinson said. "... He's just doing all the right things. He's respected by his peers. He does it in the classroom, he does it in the community. His leadership for a kid at such a young age is just kind of remarkable."
Patel, 15, played five years of club volleyball prior to attending Clarksburg, and the sport is a family tradition. His oldest sister, Shivani, picked up the sport and enjoyed it, which encouraged her siblings to give it a try as well. Another sister, Roshni, played for the girls' team at Clarksburg the four years before Aaryan started at the school.
Patel was one of two setters for the Coyotes, who went 10-4 this spring. He was elected captain by the team along with two others; the team was comprised mostly of juniors and seniors. Patel entered his freshman season with expectations that he'd contribute to the varsity squad right away.
"It was just kind of overwhelming," Patel said, "because when I went to my sister's games, a lot of people already knew me there and they had already expected things from me, so it was a little nerve-wracking, but it worked out fine."
"People started looking to me for advice whenever they would make a mistake or want to know how to improve their game," Patel added. "I just tried to give them as much advice as I could."
Dickinson said she first noticed Patel taking on a leadership role during an exhibition match early in the season. Dickinson's team was trying to integrate new players into the fold while learning on the fly; she described her players as "a little shell-shocked." It was Patel, the freshman, who corrected the Coyotes' rotations while answering a question from a teammate regarding a play Dickinson wanted to run.
"The six kids that I had on the court, he was their go-to person," Dickinson said. "That one instance, he's helping out a new member of the team while answering a question for a four-year player of mine at the same time. He never got stressed about anything; it didn't make a difference what the situation was throughout the season. He always remained calm, he always remained steady. And no matter what the situation was, he just always seemed to be the kid that everyone went to to ask a question or look for help."
Patel will enter his sophomore season as one of the top returners for the Montgomery County school. Off the court, he's interested in studying computer science long term thanks to a robotics class he took at Clarksburg this year. He's also keeping the door open for opportunities with volleyball.
"I'm not sure yet," Patel said of his future in the sport. "Right now I'm leaning more toward no, but if I get a really good offer from a really good college, then I'll probably consider taking it."
Watch video of the award presentation:
Brayden McClellan, who recently graduated from Westlake (Md.) High School after spending all four years on the track and cross country teams, was also named the U.S. Army Impact Player of the Month.
McClellan joined the U.S. Army immediately after graduating from Westlake, but prior to that, he took on leadership roles with the track and cross country teams.
"He was ready to take on the challenge of this season, his senior year," his coach, Jason Roberts, said. "He's never complained. He always took the freshmen under his wing his senior year, encouraged them because I know I can be hard on them at times. So he was that balance between the sternness of myself, and he was still that student leader that they respected. But when he was stern, it was in a positive, encouraging role, which caused his [teammates] to have personal records every single cross country meet this past season."
Roberts coached McClellan in cross country and track as a senior. McClellan ran the usual 5K cross country events and specialized in the 800-meter, 1-mile and 2-mile events in track. McClellan's best events are the latter two; he set personal records in each this year. He ran 1 mile in less than six minutes, a goal of his coming into the year, and ran 2 miles in about 12 minutes, which helped him hit his preliminary physical training benchmark for the Army.
He took part in the Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps during his high school years and now plans to serve as a linguist throughout his five-year contract with the Army. He took AP Spanish at Westlake and knows the French alphabet. McClellan said linguists "can do any number of things, whether it's working overseas with trying to communicate with locals or foreign enemy communication that needs translating."
Learning and teaching foreign languages were a big part of the high school experience for McClellan, a teacher aide in AP Spanish.
"In the classroom, he is a leader," Roberts said. "When his AP Spanish teacher's not there, of course they have subs, but Brayden is the student who can still teach the class without a lesson plan being formally written. Though his teacher does write one, Brayden knows where they left off, and the kids respect him and respond to him when he steps up to teach the class in the absence of his teachers."
While working as a linguist for the Army, McClellan also plans on pursuing a career in acting. He was in Westlake's fall show, "Spy School," and the school's spring musical, "Smokey Joe's Cafe." McClelland's ultimate goal is to work in Hollywood.
"These last few years I've kind of noticed that I really have a passion for entertainment and acting," McClellan said. "All my life, I've always enjoyed making people laugh, and I've enjoyed entertaining them. It's only been recently that I realized I can give it a shot."
"Performing for people feels really good and it just feels right. I feel like I shouldn't be doing anything else," he added.