Maybe it’s a first step toward eventually competing on other international stages. Maybe it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
But no matter how Trophy Club Nelson’s Sanaa Barnes’ views it, her appearance in this week’s 2017 Pan American Junior Championships in Trujillo, Peru, represents the culmination of a season in which she kept reaching and then exceeding her goals.
Barnes is competing in her signature high bar event. She didn’t have to set a personal record to do it. On June 24 in Sacramento, she was one of two who qualified. Barnes qualified at 5-9 ½ (her PR is 5-10).
The Pan Am games begin Friday and run through Sunday. It’s not known how many competitors she will face. The Pan Am games draw competitors from North America, South America, Central America and the Caribbean.
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“For me, this is like going to my first professional competition,” said Barnes, who also won the Class 6A state championship in the high bar at the state track and field championship in May in Austin. “I want to come home with a medal and maybe coming back with a personal record. This would be a huge step up for me.”
Barnes isn’t the only Northeast Tarrant representative. Former Keller Fossil Ridge sprinter Sean Hooper, who won the 6A 200 state title and will be moving on to Texas Tech, is running a leg on 4x400 relay. Parker Decker of Keller High School will compete in wrestling.
Barnes’ road to reach South America took a bit of flexibility, strict scheduling and perseverance. She is also playing club volleyball.
The week that she qualified for the Pan Am games was also the week her volleyball team was playing in the national tournament. Working with her schedule, Barnes flew to Sacramento on June 23, competed on June 24, flew back to Dallas on June 25 to spend the night at home and then flew to Minneapolis on June 26 to rejoin her team.
“I think I have the mindset to work hard at both volleyball and track,” Barnes said. “You have to have the mentality to do it. It’s tough to commit to it. But I’m one of those who has pushed through any pains to keep it going.”
This is why these two sports can co-exist in her world. Barnes will be a four-year letter winner in each. She’s elevated her play in both so that she can attend Villanova in 2018 and compete in both. The sports do not conflict with each other in the academic calendar. They won’t in college, either. Barnes is expected to sign her national letter of intent in November.
Track and volleyball complement each other. It’s easy with these two. You just have to stay strong and have a good core.
Barnes is going to be an essential part to the Nelson volleyball program that is looking to return to playoffs again. As always, she will be positioned on the right side. Nelson will be battling Carroll, Flower Mound Marcus and Flower Mound in District 5-6A. The volleyball season begins Aug. 7.
“The growth of her game really speaks for itself,” Nelson volleyball coach Libby Pacheco said. “Sanaa’s always been competitive and is striving to compete at this level. It takes a really special player to want to keep competing and grinding it out. I want my players to see that kind of success. It makes them hungry to compete.”
The two sports have a common denominator. Barnes wouldn’t be doing either sport well without her legs. She needs them for elevation and takeoff. On her vertical touch — a measuring device used in volleyball — Barnes reached 10 feet, seven inches. That’s why she can also clear a high bar.
There’s also no burnout. When she began high school, Barnes was in track, volleyball and basketball. The demands became intense. Barnes gave up basketball. Now, she takes her talents south of the equator.
“It came to a point where I had to cut basketball,” Barnes said. “Track and volleyball complement each other. It’s easy with these two. You just have to stay strong and have a good core.”