Barnes Shines Brightest At Defender
By Tim Goodenow for MSNsportsNET.com
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Outstanding playmaker. Great 1v1 player. Technical. Dangerous.
All words to describe an ideal forward for any soccer team.
Those same words, however, also describe West Virginia senior Greer Barnes. They typically are words not associated with a defender. Yet, that is what makes the Rye, N.Y., native one of the country’s top collegiate players.
Barnes arrived in Morgantown in 2006 with the idea of playing up top, before finding a role in the midfield. She appeared in 13 matches for the Mountaineers after suffering an injury during the preseason.
It was her sophomore year in which Barnes’ comfort level was put on display. The 5-foot-7-inch Barnes started every match in the central midfield, earning Second Team All-BIG EAST honors with a one-goal, six-assist season.
Her success as a midfielder took a different turn when playing for the W-League’s Boston Renegades in the summer of 2007. There, Barnes took advantage of an opportunity to try a position change.
“Boston is kind of where I started playing in the back line,” Barnes explains. “Darren Gallagher grabbed me and said I should try playing outside back. I came back to school and said ‘Hey Nikki (Izzo-Brown), I really like outside back.’ She said she would try me there with the new system. And for the most part, it has worked out really well.”
The change allowed West Virginia to change its formation while strengthening its personnel in each third of the field.
“She’s such a versatile player but has been just fantastic at outside back,” Head Coach Nikki Izzo-Brown says. “It was the best of both worlds because a change allowed Greer to excel individually while helping overall within the team. Both parties have really benefited greatly from her positional change.”
Guiding Barnes in her conversion to the back line was veteran center back Natalie Cocchi.
“I relied heavily on the back line from the 2007 team to help in the transition,” Barnes says. “Cocchi pretty much told me what to do and I was her little robot out there. She was a fifth-year senior and I did whatever she told me to. A lot of last year was just reacting to my coaches and teammates whereas this year I understand the position more.”
Barnes’ quick transformation paid immediate dividends as the Mountaineers won BIG EAST regular season and tournament titles, and made their deepest postseason run – a trip to the NCAA Elite Eight.
Individually, Barnes was named a Second Team All-American by the NSCAA and Soccer Buzz. She started all 25 games as the Mountaineer defense tied a school record with 13 shutouts.
What separates Barnes from your ordinary defender, however, is her ability to get forward and attack. She became the first defender in school history to earn First Team All-BIG EAST honors last season.
“I’m very comfortable with Greer pushing forward and rarely does she lose possession,” Izzo-Brown says. “She’s very gifted and can beat players 1v1. Because she’s a special player, we allow her the freedom to get forward in our attack.”
Barnes relishes the opportunity, knowing she can be a dangerous weapon even from the back line.
“Nikki always says ‘Greer, I give you a lot of pass cards. I should be getting on you but you do enough good things to keep me content,’” Barnes quickly points out. “Not a lot of coaches would give a player that much freedom.”
Barnes’ play has been recognized early and often in 2008, being named the Defensive MVP of the First Tennessee Lady Vols Classic. She has twice been named the BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Week, to go along with being a member of Soccer America and Soccer Buzz Teams of the Week.
Barnes’ success also stems from embracing the challenge of stopping some of the nation’s top forwards.
“I look forward each time out to a new challenge,” Barnes says. “And with the schedule we play, there are plenty of good players to go against. To be the best, you want to go against high-caliber teams and high-caliber players.”
Combine her physical play with a positive approach and Barnes has the mentality coaches look for in a defender.
“You have to want the ball and have to win the ball,” Barnes says, owner of 56 career starts. “Nikki always says one of the most important things in being a defender is having a strong mentality.”
Barnes was named to the Hermann Trophy Watch List, college soccer’s version of the Heisman Trophy. Only one defender has earned the honor of the nation’s best player since the award’s inception in 1988. Catherine Reddick of North Carolina made history in 2003 by proving that not everything can be measured in the stat book, and Barnes hopes to prove the same.
“Greer being on the Watch List says how valuable she is and the threat she posses from the back line,” Izzo-Brown says. “Typically, it’s a midfielder or forward with good stats that gets the recognition for major awards. Everyone across the country has an appreciation for what Greer can do on both sides of the ball.”
Barnes’ playmaking ability and suffocating defense will guide the Mountaineers to another postseason berth. One thing is clear; a key ingredient to their success is the play of midfielder-turned defender Greer Barnes.
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