Emmy Barnhorst took the road well-traveled to her volleyball career.
Well-traveled by her mom, that is.
“I played soccer for 11 years and I did club soccer for four years,” she said. “I started doing club volleyball my 14's year. Giving up soccer was a bummer, but my mom couldn’t take it anymore. I was doing soccer and volleyball and she was driving me to six practices in four days or something like that. It was unbelievable.”
Her mother convinced her to choose between soccer and volleyball.
“On the weekends, I was missing either soccer or volleyball, and she didn’t want me to bail on one team,” Barnhorst added. “At that point, I was kind of soccer-minded, but at the end of my 14's year I knew I was a fit for volleyball. I was 6-feet tall and looked like a dork on the soccer field. I miss it, but I like volleyball a lot better.”
One of the benefits of volleyball?
“Practices don’t get cancelled because of the weather, which is nice,” Barnhorst said.
Wheaton North and some fortunate high-profile Division I college are grateful that Barnhorst, now 6-foot-2, made the choice to focus on volleyball. Thanks to her skills and leadership on and off the court, the Falcons are 15-6 after upsetting illprepvb.com’s No. 4-ranked Benet on Thursday.
“Emmy's a little bit of a late bloomer and she’s just coming into her own,” Wheaton North coach Carol Kristensen said. “She was a middle last year, but one of the reasons we switched her to the outside was so that she could be on the court more. She’s able to place the ball, she sees the court well, she’s a great server and she’s doing a lot better passing.”
Wheaton North is also benefitting from her work ethic and the leadership she brings to the court, at practice, in the classroom and just around school in general.
“She's a great kid,” Kristensen said. “I know that's very trite, but she's one of those kids who anybody can go to. She's easy to talk to, she's a very smart girl, she flourishes in the classroom, and she’s always encouraging, from the player who doesn't play all the time to the player who is right up there with her.”
Barnhorst was not an instant volleyball sensation despite her size, however.
“I started later than most kids,” she said. “I started my 14's year. Everyone else started as 11's or 12's. I was definitely behind.”
As a 14-year-old, Barnhorst started on the fourth team at Sports Performance. She then moved up to the second team as a 16-year-old (although she played most of the season with 16 Elite) before finally breaking camp last year with Sports Performance’s historically dominant 18 Elite squad.
With Barnhorst roaming the middle, Mizuno 18 Elite overcame injuries and defections to place second at the AAU Junior National Volleyball Championships in Orlando, Fla., last June.
“Last year was really good,” she said. “We had a lot of ups and downs. We made a lot of switches. One girl had to leave because her father passed away. Our lineup changed a lot. But we held it strong until nationals. We made it to the championship game before losing to Munciana (Ind.). “
Munciana Samurai dealt Mizuno 18 Elite a heartbreaking 29-27, 22-25, 15-10 defeat. But the experience gave Barnhorst the opportunity to experience the highs and lows of competition on a national stage.
“Getting second is pretty cool,” she added. “We got to wear special jerseys, (Sports Performance director Rick Butler) lets us wear special jerseys if we get to the championship game. Just putting that on, the feeling was unbelievable. But losing that match was the worst thing in the world. I hated that. Working all year for something then falling like a foot short.”
Next year, she hopes to lead her college team (she is expected to make a decision in the very near future) onto the big stage.
“I want to help my team win a conference championship and get into the NCAA tournament,” she said. “That’s my dream.”
But Barnhorst, who plans to major in business, has set other goals for her college career in addition to volleyball.
“I want to find the right fit academically and athletically,” she said. “I want be able to call myself a ‘student-athlete.’ I don't want to be just an athlete in college.”