By Ben Coldagelli
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
For University of Oklahoma senior Brianne Barker, discovering her passion for the game of volleyball was not an extensive process; she was born into it.
Born and raised in Amarillo, Texas, the All-American setter was constantly around the sport. Her mother Jan is entering her 25th season of coaching the Amarillo High School varsity volleyball team.
"I was born a gym rat," Barker said. "I've seen volleyball and I've seen good players playing volleyball my entire life. It helps you out when you have a coach to come home to every night and just talk volleyball with them. That's how I really got my start. I was a big basketball player, but volleyball has always been my passion. I've never known anything but playing volleyball."
Even at a young age, Barker was a true student of the sport. Always looking for new skills and tactics to add to her game, Barker would watch how opposing players and older girls played.
After playing competitive volleyball her whole life, Barker entered Amarillo High School ready to contend for a spot on her mom's varsity roster. Barker made the varsity squad as a freshman, redefining her relationship with her mom-turned-coach.
"I get asked (about having my mom as a coach) a lot," said Barker. "It's harder than you think. It's difficult, especially when I was a freshman on varsity, the whole drama that goes along with that. Not only was it hard on me, but it was hard on my mom just to separate the mother-daughter relationship from the coach-player relationship. It was really difficult for the both of us. It was hardest my freshman year and sophomore year but once we got into my junior and senior years we knew how to handle it, we knew what to do, what not to do."
Jan Barker agreed that having her daughter on the varsity as a freshman was a challenge.
"Back when she was a freshman on the varsity squad, I put her in one match and she began telling junior and senior hitters where to go and hit to," said Jan Barker. "Those junior and senior hitters came up to me afterward and said, 'When she first stepped on the floor and started telling us what to do we wondered, who does she think she is? But then we realized, she was right.'
"She had such a deep understanding of the game, even in high school. She was able to run the team better on the court than I was telling her how to do it."
Not only did Barker have her mom as a head coach, but her younger sister, Danielle, was her backup setter during her senior season.
"I wouldn't change it for anything" Brianne said. "It's something that not very many people can say they had, having so much success as we did in high school with my mom as the coach and my sister playing on the team. It was really cool, though very difficult at times. I wouldn't want to do it again, but I wouldn't change it for the world."
Barker has moved from the Texas panhandle to the heart of Oklahoma and the support of her family has followed.
"There are so many great athletes out there that people will come to watch, wondering what amazing thing they will do," OU coach Santiago Restrepo said. "Brianne is that athlete. She's the one you come to see and be amazed."
Barker boasts numerous accolades in her career at Oklahoma. Along with an appearance in the 2010 Sweet 16, the setter was named to the 2008 Big 12 All-Freshman Team and earned 2009 All-Big 12 honorable mention honors. In 2010, she was a All-Big 12 first-team member and an AVCA third team All-American.
Barker's success can be partially attributed to her mental preparation. She prepares for matches by studying film for up to four hours.
"I'll sit and watch some video with her sometimes and hear what she sees," Jan Barker said. "It's uncanny to me. She watches video all the time on the other team and she learns from it. She knows rotation by rotation what the other team will do."
Entering her final season, the determined senior isn't settling on her past accomplishments. Always striving to be the best player on the court, Barker remains focused on her goals for the 2011 season.
"My mentality is that this is my last year," she said. "I'm definitely giving everything I have, putting in that extra effort, getting my team together to play our best. We want to peak at the end of the season and we're looking to do that.
"This year we decided that one of our goals, that I do think we're able to do, is win a Big 12 Championship. Nobody has ever won it here at OU and that's something that is legitimate this year."
Her last season at Oklahoma probably won't be her last season involved with volleyball. Barker is considering following in her mother's career footsteps.
"When I do eventually stop playing, I am going to hopefully get into coaching," Barker said. "Being a coach's kid, it's all I've ever known. I just don't think that I can have a desk job. I have to be in the gym. I'll definitely be playing as long as I can and then coaching or coaching club. I'd love to own my club eventually and just be able to teach volleyball to everybody and share my same passion that I have for the game with everyone else."
"I have no doubt that she wants to be a coach," Jan Barker said. "She can't envision her life without volleyball in it. I talk with her and tell her that she would make a great college coach because her knowledge is so beyond what high school players can do."