Athlete of the Week: Sanaä Barnes, Dual Sport Athlete

Sophomore Sanaä Barnes is on an endless quest to exceed expectations. On a recruiting visit she made to Villanova with now-teammates Anna Morse and Clare Delaplane, while in high school, the three of them stood in front of head coach Josh Steinbach in his office and promised him they were the class that was going to bring the volleyball program a Big East Championship.

“That’s definitely one of my goals for the volleyball team, to win a Big East Championship,” Barnes, a right-sided hitter on the team, said. “But I don’t want to stop there. I think one of my biggest volleyball goals is to go to the NCAA tournament and making an impact with this team. Getting the name out there, that we are a force to be reckoned with.”

This is as good a place as any to mention that when she was not playing volleyball her freshman year, Sanaä Barnes earned first-team All-American honors as a high jumper. Of course, Barnes is not satisfied with that, either.

“As far as track goes, hopefully getting that national title this year because I was so close last year,” she said. “And I know one of [head coach Gina Procaccio’s] goals is to win a national title as a team, and I want to be on that.”

Only a select group of athletes are talented enough to play multiple sports at a high collegiate level, fewer than that are willing to take on the time commitment, and the group gets even smaller when looking at who can do both at an extremely high level. Barnes admits she sometimes resents her packed schedule.

“Being a duel sport athlete, I don’t get to socialize much,” she said. “It’s hard being trapped on campus without other people around. I definitely believe that having two teams helps, but it sometimes gets lonely, so that’s a struggle.”

So why does Barnes put herself through this sort of grueling schedule year round if there is such a downside to it? Well, as many college coaches who recruited her could tell you, and she will admit herself, she knows what is important to her, and she is stubborn about it. By her sophomore year, she was getting recruited by a lot of high-level Pac-12 programs for volleyball, who told her she could do track as well, but only for as long as she maintained their permission. Barnes refused to settle. 

“Like I said, [track & field] is part of who I am, and I was not going to deal with that,” she said.

Luckily for the Wildcats, Steinbach saw no reason to stand in the way of what Barnes wanted and gave his okay. However, there was one more step. While she is an All-American now, she was not on Procaccio’s recruiting radar, because the volleyball recruiting cycle used to start earlier than track. As Steinbach tells it, they were more willing to speed up their process. 

“I went into their office and asked if they would be interested,” he said. “They didn’t know who she was, but they googled her and then very quickly signed on.”

Barnes’ determination and stubbornness is enough to get her through her ridiculous schedule and living far away from her family and “church family” in Keller, Texas most of the time, but before she became comfortable around everyone on campus, these traits backfired on her somewhat. 

“Until I’m comfortable with somebody, I’m not going to say very much to you,” Barnes explained. “Like you’ll ask me if I’m fine? I’d be like, ‘yeah I’m fine.’ Even if I’m not.”

Fortunately for Barnes, even though she is far from her “church family” now, the practices and habits she learned growing up a Baptist stuck with her and helped her through the tough times. 

“I’m a very religious person,” she said. “So first, of course, Jesus Christ. I won’t want to talk about it, but my mom will be like ‘did you pray about it?’ And [she’s] right, I gotta go pray.”

The reward of getting to go play the sports she loves helps too, naturally. But even out on the court she’s doing more, helping to maintain team morale in addition to hitting the ball extremely hard into the ground for kills, as she did 205 times her freshman season.

“I enjoy bringing energy to the court,” she said about her propensity to stomp off the court yelling if she is subbed after a big play. “I feel like it’s easier for our team to stay up when we’re all bringing energy. Even if we are down, it’s easier to get a lead if we’re all high energy.” 

But it is not just her teammates Barnes is trying to pump up with her big plays.She feeds off the crowd as well. 

“I’ve always been a crowd pleaser. I enjoy big crowds,” she said about her big performances a couple weekends ago when the University managed multiple sellout crowds behind their “Jam the Jake” promotion. “Especially being from Texas, where sports are a huge thing, I do enjoy being in front of a huge crowd and being able to get that reaction.”

And while she was busy entertaining crowds, she was surprising opponents week in and week out – like she did when she was named to the Big East Honor Roll for her performance at the USC Trojan Invitational last month – as she is small for a front row player at 5’9”. 

“I’m noticeably smaller,” she smirked, as if part of her relishes in that fact. “I enjoy it. I’ve always been underestimated, and I love when people underestimate me, because it gives me something to prove to them. A lot of times, some people will look at me and just laugh. I definitely think that is a little bit of my drive to show that, ‘hey, I might be small but I can still do what you do just as well.’” 

Even giving up roughly half a foot to her counterparts on the court, Sanaä Barnes is clearly exceeding expectations.