It took a little while for volleyball to find Mekana Barnes, but it didn’t take her too long to figure out that the sport was for her.
Barnes was a high school sophomore basketball player who had only fiddled with volleyball in P.E. class before a ThunderRidge High School coach recommended she try to get balls over a net, instead of through one.
Barnes listened, and within seven years she has gone from a novice to an All-American; something that still shocks the Rams star.
“It is still . shocking when people say my name and All-American because I don’t think about it too much. It is just a blessing,” Barnes said. “I don’t think about things that way. Even in high school with recruiting, I was surprised that I was good enough to play college volleyball and get a scholarship.”
Barnes almost refuses to discuss herself, focusing mostly on team goals and achievement, displaying a humble attitude that Rams head coach Tom Hilbert feels is the key to Barnes’ success.
“She’s never thought that she is as good as she actually is. She has a humility to her, which makes her work hard. She is really dynamic, and obviously to become an All-American. It wasn’t by accident,” said Hilbert.
Hilbert knew that Barnes was raw when he recruited her, but felt her athleticism alone made her a good choice for a scholarship.
“Her coach recommended her, and we had also seen her with the Front Range Volleyball Club, and so we recruited her on potential. When you see a kid with that kind of athleticism, you say, ‘Wow that kid could really be good,'” said Hilbert, who soon saw what could be possible at the conclusion of Barnes’ prep career.
“I do remember her senior year after she had signed, I watched her in the warm-ups for the state all-star game, she was just burying balls, and I said, ‘This kid is going to be something else.'”
On the court, Barnes seems to expect to make every play; maybe the one way that she acknowledges her own talent. Her many excellent shots are often met with muted celebration, while a rare mistake will result in a quick outburst.
Hilbert knows that Barnes is far from her ceiling, and he has challenged her to become a better leader; something her teammates feel she is accomplishing.
“She is a great leader on the court,” said redshirt freshman Katelyn Steffan. “She makes us better every practice, especially just going against her. She is unreal, she hits at such a high trajectory.”
While this will be her last season with the Rams, Hilbert said that during the Rams’ tour of Europe this summer, Barnes had several top level pro clubs expressing interest in her for next season if she chooses to go overseas.
Barnes said she would love the chance, but true to the Rams’ “one game at a time” motto this season, she said she really hasn’t thought too much about the future.
“I don’t have any (personal goals) besides trying to get better and help my team. We want to win the conference and we start with Utah [on Thursday],” she said.
Volleyball beat writer Matthew Pucak can be reached at email@example.com.