Volleyball looks to Barr for leadership and defensive skill

Ashley Sepanski

Junior libero leads Kent State in digs

Junior libero Kristen Barr left northwest Ohio to get away from Bowling Green, but Kent State’s emotional leader will fight for bragging rights at home when the Falcons visit the M.A.C Building Saturday.

This weekend the Flashes host two home games. Kent State plays against Miami Friday and Barr’s hometown rival, Bowling Green, Saturday.

“(Playing Bowling Green) is still fun for me, especially because it’s my hometown,” Barr said. “It’s more so the name that gets me excited than anything else because I don’t want them to beat me.”

Barr said she originally wanted to play volleyball for the Falcons, but her desire to see a new part of the state changed her mind.

“When I was younger, I wanted to play for Bowling Green, but then I decided I wanted to move away from home,” Barr said. “Honestly, I didn’t even talk to Bowling Green because I knew I didn’t want to go there. I just wanted to see other places.”

Last season, Bowling Green defeated the Flashes both times they faced off.

“I hate going home. A lot of my friends go to Bowling Green, and they’re like ‘Ohhh, we beat you!'” Barr said. “I’m just like ‘No!’ It drives me crazy. I just want to beat them. I’m not conflicted at all (playing Bowling Green).”

Barr leads the Kent State volleyball team statistically in digs and serves as the team’s captain. With 240 digs on the season, Barr carries the team from the back row, a place she has called home for only a few short years.

Barr, a setter during club volleyball and a setter/hitter during high school, made the change to libero her junior year of high school.

“At first I was like ‘aww’ because I really liked setting a lot,” Barr said. “I really have developed a love for being libero, though. It’s fun because no one gets to dive all over the floor and dig balls up and just bring energy in a different way.”

Kent State coach Glen Conley said Barr has worked hard to reach her level of success.

“When Barr was a freshman, we had a libero, Laura Jensen, and I think she helped (Barr) a lot,” Conley said. “They are different types of players, but as far as seeing what’s on the other side of the court, I think she learned a lot from (Jensen).

“Next year we’re bringing in a freshman libero, and I’m sure Barr will help her out.”

Kent State (9-9, 2-2 Mid-American Conference) has lost two and won two since it defeated Butler Sept. 19 this season. The Flashes have stayed even since MAC play began Sep. 24, and Barr hopes to tip the scale with a win.

Kent State’s first opponent this weekend, Miami (8-8, 3-1 MAC), last fell to the Flashes in 2003.

“I know Miami’s been a good program,” Barr said. “They have been in the past, so it’s always been just fun to go out and play them.”

“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Conley added. “Miami is a very strong team, and Bowling Green has traditionally been a top team in the MAC. Bowling Green has a lot of talent, and I know they’re going to try to get it going.

“We’ve got a big rivalry there.”

Barr said recent statistical rankings have also boosted the team’s confidence. Kent State is now ranked 18th in the country for blocks per set, and senior outside hitter Arjola Prenga is ranked ninth in the nation for kills per set.

“I’m always pumped for our team to be ranked in anything,” Barr said. “Volleyball is such a team sport, and I think it pays off. Yeah, individuals get recognized, but eventually everything comes back to the team. It’s awesome,;I love it.”

Barr said she hopes to keep improving and keep helping her team.

“Barr is our energizer; she gives us the fight (when we play),” Conley said. “She always has that high intensity, and she’s done an excellent job. She is one of the best passers on the team, and we have complete confidence in her.”

The Flashes will begin play against Miami at 7 p.m. on Friday in the M.A.C. Center.

Contact sports reporter Ashley Sepanski at [email protected].