Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
WHEELERSBURG — If you faced Wheelersburg last season, you knew you had to do many things to beat the Pirates.
But at the top of that list, probably circled twice, was “Find a way to contain Kylee Barney.”
It could be argued that 28 teams tried to do just that, and all 28 failed. Barney was nothing short of electric throughout her junior year, pacing the Pirates to their first-ever regional title.
Barney’s season totals included a team-high 260 kills and a school record 108 blocks. The 6-foot-2 middle hitter was an absolute terror for opponents to hit around.
Behind her, Wheelersburg rolled off 73 straight set wins to begin the season — yes, that’s a real-life statistic. In fact, the Pirates didn’t lose a set until the regional championship tilt.
The team’s tournament ended with a three-set loss to Independence in a Division III state semifinal … but not before the school’s volleyball books gained a historic entry.
However, that was then and this is now. Barney is focused on the future and applying the lessons her and her teammates learned during that tournament run, this fall.
“[Making it to state] was the thing we’d been waiting for since my freshman year,” Barney said. “We were so ready to play in that facility. But we were ‘star struck,’ I guess you could say. But this year, we all know what it’s like and we’re working even harder in the gym to accomplish our main goal. We’re fixing our mistakes. We want those great passes to the setter, we want those great sets to the hitters, and we want those hitters to get a kill every time we can get the ball. With that said, all these girls are ready to fight for what’s to come and they’re ready to win.”
Barney may want it more than anyone else.
While COVID-19 forced the closure of club volleyball, she’s figured out ways to sharpen her skills during the offseason. At times, she’s had to get creative. But as long as it makes her better and further ready to lead her team this fall, anything is worth the headache.
KYLEE BARNEY’S CAREER STATISTICS
|YEAR||KILLS||KILLS/SET||HIT PCT.||BS||BA||TOTAL BLOCKS||BLKS/MATCH|
“As everything started to shut down, club volleyball got cancelled so I had to come up with new things to do,” Barney said. “I pushed myself to go outside and pass the volleyball for at least 30 minutes a day. Even if I didn’t have a partner to pass with, I’d make it work. I’ve played volleyball since I was in third grade and haven’t stopped since. So it was hard to process that volleyball was on hold for a while. As summer has gone by, we’ve been able to get back in the gym from time to time to work on things and it feels so good to be in the gym.”
Last year’s season-ending loss signalled the end of two illustrious careers. The Pirates bid adieu to both Alli McQuay and Mallory Bergan, two unquestioned floor generals.
Barney watched and learned from both, as well as the seniors before them, studying their actions and how they led their teammates into battle.
She knows that, like anything else, what she puts into her senior year will mirror what she gets out of it. But right now, she’s just hoping she has a final season to play in the first place.
“Being able to play my senior year means everything to me. I’ve always seen the girls older than me as my role models and watched them enjoy their senior seasons. So I’ve always looked forward to having one as well,” Barney said. “I’ve looked forward to having my Senior Night with my friends, hanging my banner in the gym with the other seniors … We all want to accomplish so much and we all will fight hard to achieve those goals. Volleyball has been my favorite thing to do for so many years and being able to complete that chapter in my life would be amazing.”
Barney and fellow seniors Kaylee Darnell, Lauren Jolly and Emily Boggs, are all slated to return to Wheelersburg’s starting lineup. When you throw in a plethora of young talent the Pirates possess, it automatically makes them the favorite to win, and defend, an SOC title.
And, why not? After all, Wheelersburg has now won 66 straight league matches — the last loss came on Sept. 15, 2015 at Waverly.
Even so, there is no sense of tranquility. The Pirates’ ship still sails full steam ahead.
“The strongest attribute of our team this season would be determination. If someone walked into our practices, they’d see how much time we dedicate to the game. We workout, condition, do ball control drills, and we work on mentally being strong in certain situations,” Barney said. “We saw what we could achieve last year, making it to state. Now we all want to make it back and win. We have so many girls with talent and they all want to be a part of the team because they truly love the game. The whole team gets along so well and we’re all friends on and off the court.”
With Barney leading the way, Wheelersburg has its recipe for success. Now, it’s just a matter of taking care of business.
Dayton or bust.
“All of us have put in so much effort for the upcoming season because we all know what we want to accomplish this year.” Barney said. “I want to be a role model for the younger girls on the team and show them that hard work pays off in the end. I have so much faith in this team, it’s crazy. I really do believe with determination and fight, we can do anything.”