Barber plays vital role in Marquette volleyball

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Photo by Valeria Cardenas/valeria.cardenas@marquette.edu

Photo by Valeria Cardenas/valeria.cardenas@marquette.edu

Nele Barber wasn’t really planning on being a volleyball player.

Originally a gymnast, the Berlin, Germany native picked up volleyball in elementary school, but stopped after just three practices. However, that all changed one day when Barber went to take a test to gain admission into one of Germany’s specialized sports schools.

“The coach who recruited me (for volleyball) called my Dad for the test to get into sports school,” Barber said. “And my Dad just told me that it was something for gymnastics. So I said sure, why not just try it out? Well, the test wasn’t about gymnastics.”

Barber was essentially tricked into playing volleyball, but she said she’s glad she was.

Currently a sophomore and the outside hitter for the Marquette volleyball team, Barber is also a graduate of the Education and Sports Centre in Berlin. She has represented her country in more than 80 international matches as part of the German Junior National team. At only 16 years old, Barber competed in the 2011 FIVB Volleyball Girls’ Youth World Championship as part of the German U-19 team and helped propel the Germans to a fifth-place finish in the tourney. It was then Barber decided she wanted to go overseas for college in lieu of trying to play professionally in Germany.

“I wanted to play volleyball and study at the same time,” Barber said. “In Germany, if you play professional (volleyball), your coaches probably don’t really want you to study …  and I didn’t want that. I would probably feel like something was missing.”

So, Barber began to investigate overseas schools. She was already well into her search when an assistant coach on the junior national team introduced her to Bond Shymansky, the then-coach of Marquette volleyball. After communicating with Barber several times via Skype, Shymansky flew to Germany to recruit her personally. Barber described Shymasky as a “nice guy” and a “very good speaker”, which ultimately factored into her decision to leave Germany and come to Marquette.

“I just liked him,” Barber said.

Shymansky, for his part, praised Barber when she announced she was coming to Marquette and described her as a player that had “experience, poise, skill, and vision.” She showed all of those attributes in her first year at Marquette, as she recorded 2.79 kills per set and an efficient .292 hitting percentage.

Barber saved her best performances of freshman year for when her team needed them the most. She recorded 18 kills – just two shy of her career-high mark for most kills in a game – and a .500 hitting percentage in Marquette’s victory against Butler in the semifinal of the Big East tournament. That sterling effort was followed up with 16 kills against the Creighton Bluejays, which helped lead Marquette to its first Big East tournament title.

Sophomore year brought some significant changes to Marquette volleyball. Approximately two months after Marquette’s defeat at the hands of the Illinois Fighting Illini in the second round of last year’s NCAA tournament, Shymansky announced he was leaving Marquette to take over the head-coaching job at Iowa. Suddenly, after only a year at Marquette and in America, Barber was without the coach that recruited her.

Ryan Theis filled the vacancy left by Shymansky’s departure and, although the coach changed, Barber’s solid play and Marquette’s pattern of success certainly hasn’t. The team is currently sitting at 23-7 overall and 13-4 in Big East conference play, which is good for third place in the conference, just a half-game back from Seton Hall.

When asked to give this year’s team a grade, Barber said, “B+, maybe a B” after a slight pause. “We have a lot to improve, but we have some good stuff that we’ve been doing too.”

Just like last year, Barber has stepped up when her team has needed her most. When Marquette needed a boost against a feisty Texas-San Antonio team, Barber responded with fifteen kills and five blocks. When the Golden Eagles needed a second source of offense to upset the No. 7 Florida Gators, Barber delivered with twelve kills. And when Central Florida took a 2-0 lead the next day, Barber won some key points down the stretch to spearhead an improbable Marquette comeback.

“We had some really good games against Florida and American, where I thought it would be hard or even impossible to win from what I heard,” Barber said. “But we all played really well and, more importantly, we played well as a team. If someone was shut down by the other team … then the others balanced it with their performance.”

As the season winds down and Marquette attempts to reach its fourth straight NCAA tournament, Barber could critically factor in how far the team ends up going. If she can keep up the level of play that she has sustained thus far, Marquette will be a dangerous team come tournament time.

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