Saturday, November 12, 2011

Lauren Barfield: big hit, big block, late bloom

It was the second week of preseason practice. Lauren Barfield was rehearsing her footwork, variations on the same steps she’d been drilling for years. Left, right, jump, swing.
The volleyball was there, about two feet above the net. And she crushed it. Absolutely pounded the ball. Hit it so hard, it ricocheted high above the Hec Ed Pavilion court.
Lauren Barfield (8)
[Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann]
Her teammates cheered.
“It felt pretty good,” she remembered.
Barfield is a 6-5 University of Washington senior who is just coming into her own. She has always been a blocking threat—more on that in a moment—but now, in her final season, she has become a hitter.
”I’ve noticed that when I’m in games, I have a couple more blockers on me,” Barfield says. “So, yeah, I think people are paying attention a little more.”
Off the court, people have been paying attention to Barfield for several years now. That happens when you soar past six feet tall in 9th grade, with arms long enough to change lightbulbs. A smart student at Bellevue’s Newport High School, she mostly stayed away from organized sports until the 10th grade.
“People look at me and say, ‘Whoa! You’re an athlete.’ And I say, ‘Yeah, I’m a little bit late in the game.’”
Shorter girls reach their full height earlier. They get used to their center of gravity sooner. But Barfield says most of her taller teammates were late bloomers.
“In high school, they are still getting used to having these long arms and long legs,” she says. “I think (UW teammate) Kelcey (Dunaway), when she was in high school—we played against each other—she was so skinny, she was still so gangly. Some girls on this team have just now realized their full physical potential.”
“We’re just kind of a different breed, just being so tall.”
Lauren Barfield
[Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann]
As a UW sophomore, she broke her finger during a defensive drill, and missed several weeks of practice. Last season, pegged as a starter, she broke her hand—her metacarpal—in yet another drill.
“For sure, it slowed her down,” says UW Assistant Coach Keno Gandara. “And somebody whose kind of catching up in her development, all of a sudden she misses out on ten—eight preseason games, and she’s thrown in the middle of the Pac-10, where we’ve been in the heat of the battle for the conference championship, and she feels that pressure. Her confidence level wasn’t there to put that aside.”
But Gandara, who coaches Washington’s middle blockers, relentlessly drilled Barfield on the basics: eyework, footwork, arm technique. By the end of the season, Barfield was a real threat—as a blocker. But to Gandara, that was only half a loaf.
“We always wanted her to develop as a hitter,” Gandara says. “Our offense is more important than our block. I think you have way more control in your offense and attacking the ball than defending it. But with her size and her jumping ability, maybe it was easier for her to block than attack.”
In the offseason, Barfield hit the gym. And while her body grew ever stronger, she was learning to change a big part of her personality.
“Part of me getting a late start was, I overthought. I tend to do that. I have to be here at this time, perfectly doing this or that. Keno helped me; he was like, just do it, just run and make an error and try. It’s part of why I’ve gotten better now, is I’m just gonna … go. And if something goes wrong, so what, we’ll deal with it.”
“I just started playing, not thinking.”
“I think she’s finally pretty comfortable with her job, her position, her movement patterns, her eyework,” Gandara says. “She’s a smart kid. She works hard. She’s learning to work harder.”
Lauren Barfield
[Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann]
In Washington’s 2-setter offense, Barfield is paired with setter Evan Sanders. From the start of the season, the two seniors have been in sync.
“I feel it at the end of games when it’s really close,” Barfield says. “It’s like, I know I can kill this, I know I can kill this. It’s, okay, I know what shot to hit. If she sets me this ball, I know what I’m gonna do. It feels good to know I can kill a ball.”
For much of the season, Barfield’s hitting percentage has been among the top ten or fifteen in the conference. But her blocking has not exactly taken a back seat: she and fellow middle blocker Bianca Rowland are one of the 2 or 3 best blocking tandems in all of Division 1 (318 teams.) Barfield says UW’s coaches emphasize all skills equally; it was a decision by the Huskies’ players to try to become a feared team of blockers.
“We thought, we can be really good at blocking. I think that’s something good about our team: when we have something we want to get good at, we go out and talk to our coaches and we do it.”
Tonight is Senior Night, when Barfield, Rowland and Sanders will be honored before the match with California. Barfield—once a tall, skinny high school kid who took up volleyball on a whim—is now considering a professional volleyball career overseas. It’s fair to say she never really saw it coming.
“Now that I’m at the end of it, I’m starting to realize, wow, this is the real deal. High school, I’m like, 15 years old, I thought, Oh, yeah, I’ll play volleyball. This is fun, I’m tall, I can do it. And now … there’s a lot more to volleyball than just being tall. It’s a big deal. It’s our life. It’s more than just a game for us.”

UWTV Quick Set | September 16, 2011
featuring Lauren Barfield, Bianca Rowland & Amanda Gil
produced and copyrighted by Jack & Leslie Hamann, no little things Productions, 2011

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