Abby Barnett had a strong season last year at Liberty. As a junior, she became one of the team's top hitters and was a force in helping Liberty surprise many by winning the Class 3A West region title.
But Barnett wanted more for her senior season.
Liberty coach Dave Trumbo often removed her when she was supposed to play back row, and Barnett looked for a way to improve that part of her game and become a more complete player.
Following teammates' suggestions that she join the Carroll County Volleyball Club team last spring, playing in tough tournaments that strengthened her skills and paved her way to playing all six positions this season.
Usually a middle hitter for Liberty, Barnett played at outside hitter for the club team. She worked tirelessly on back-row mechanics. Barnett also tried hard to improve her passing, which she thought was her weakness.
"I wanted to get more experience and play against better players," said Barnett, a Lions captain this season. "I want to be known as an all-around player, not just as a hitter or blocker."
The Lions played in the state final four last year at Essex Community College, which Barnett found intimidating. But club play gave her a closer look at college gyms, which are larger and more open than most high school arenas. With the club team she played at Penn State University, the University of Delaware, Catonsville Community College and others.
Her club-ball efforts are paying off this fall.
Everyone knew how strong Barnett could be at the net, a talent she again demonstrated in last week's match with Urbana. Barnett registered 27 kills to help the Lions rally from a 2-0 deficit and stun the Hawks in a five-game match.
Barnett had 21 kills in the final three games alone and dominated play at the net as the Lions roared back.
"She was unconscious," said Trumbo. "We knew they'd have a hard time stopping her, so we kept going to her."
Barnett is 5-foot-9 but has a 24-inch vertical leap that often lets her pound good shots.
"She sees the court very well," said Trumbo. "She hits the ball hard, but she can block and dink very well."
In addition, Barnett is more confident and views playing the back row as a challenge.
"If I had to stay in last year and [play back row], I'd be scared to death," said Barnett. "But I'm not scared any more."
Barnett didn't pick up the sport until high school. She made the JV as a freshman and moved up to the varsity the following year and keeps getting better.
"I wanted to improve this year," said Barnett. "I think I'm definitely doing all right in the front row, but I'm still working on the back row."