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Barry a big hit for North

North Medford makes no secret of its approach on the volleyball court.

When it comes to offensive strategy, the idea is to feed senior Lauren Barry as much as possible and go from there.

What may seem simple certainly has been effective, for Barry and a Black Tornado squad aiming to secure a second-place finish in the Southwest Conference with a win in Thursday’s regular season finale at South Medford High. The match begins at 6:45 p.m.

“I have coached for 30 years off and on with both boys and girls in various sports and she’s as competitive as any kid I’ve ever coached,” North Medford head coach Malcolm Munson said of Barry. “She’s the kind of kid that wants to find a way to win and find a way to get it done and so she does.”

“Teams know exactly what we’re going to do, we did it last year with her and we’re doing it this year with her,” he added. “We’re going to give her the ball a ton so they know it’s going to happen but yet they still don’t stop her.”

If that sounds a little boastful, consider Barry’s impressive statistics that support such praise.

Entering Tuesday’s five-set win over South Eugene, Barry had posted 179 kills at 22.4 kills per match and 6.3 kills per set while maintaining a .270 attack percentage in only eight league matches.

A complete player, Barry also had 165 digs prior to facing the Axe, which is 20.6 per match and 5.9 digs per set.

Overall, Barry carried 478 attack attempts into Tuesday’s match, essentially 60 per match and 17 attacks per set — making her look like a windmill on the court with her arm constantly circling.

“Our team has really come together and that’s really how I’ve been so successful,” Barry said in deflecting credit to her teammates. “We need a pass in order to hit and our passers are doing good. We need to set it in order to hit and our setter is doing good. Everything is just in place and we’re doing really good because of it.”

For some perspective, Munson noted that a look at the NCAA Division I leaders showed that averages for outside hitters like Barry were 13.6 attacks per set, 6.14 kills per set, a .374 attack percentage and 5.13 digs per set.

“I just expect the ball every time,” Barry said of her extensive use. “I have confidence in myself so if it’s a tight game, I want the ball. I trust everyone on my team, it’s just I trust myself more if that makes any sense.”

On Tuesday, Barry didn’t cut into any of her averages after she posted 28 kills, 29 digs and seven aces to pull North Medford (14-6, 6-3 SWC) within one game of second-place South Eugene (18-7, 7-2), which closes against league-leading Sheldon (20-6, 9-0).

“Lauren is productive so it makes sense to get her touches and have her be involved, no doubt,” said Munson, who has coached Barry since she was an eighth grader at Hedrick Middle School.

“Over the course of time she’s just expanded her game and she was pretty good when I got her,” added the coach. “She could set for us if we needed her to set and be an all-state setter, but we need her to do some other things for us. She’s obviously a great attacker but she can block at the net, she can dig and she can play defense and she is a tremendously tough server, so she’s extremely well-rounded.”

Barry is so well-rounded of an athlete that she is also an all-conference fixture at shortstop for North Medford’s softball program. Whatever season she is in makes that her favorite sport at the time, but the 17-year-old standout said she put a little extra effort in her training for volleyball this summer.

“I’ve really been focusing on my jumping,” said Barry, who had 34 kills and 26 digs recently against Roseburg. “If you can get up there you can slam it. It has a lot to do with hand coordination and timing and all that, but I feel like if you can jump high, you can do it.”

When you only stand 5-foot-6 and play a position traditionally dominated by taller figures, there has to be something that helps separate you from the pack.

“I have to know when there’s a bigger block up and I have to be more savvy with tipping more,” she said of overcoming any height deficiency. “I can’t just keep pounding it because they’ll block me so you definitely have to be smarter than the block and hit off of them and make them a weapon instead of a defense.”

According to Munson, the list of attributes is long on how Barry’s able to overcome obstacles placed in front of her.

“She’s a pretty phenomenal athlete who has great feet and can make in-air adjustments and body adjustments that a lot of kids just don’t have the ability to do,” he said of the team captain.

“Lauren’s just really savvy,” added Munson. “She understands that when she gets kids on their heels and they start backing up and taking away some of the stuff she did earlier that she’s got to change up and do something different, and she does. She has a number of different weapons in her arsenal. She can roll shots, she can push it, she can show and throw, she can hit off of one foot, she can go fast, she can go high she can do a lot of things. Again it’s just a testament to her athletic ability and her preparedness.”

Barry said she began playing volleyball at an early age but truly fell in love with the sport when she was in middle school and watching her older sister Alex compete for the Black Tornado. Ever the competitor, the younger Barry wanted what her sister had and maybe more.

“Watching my sister play on this team and her success, I was just like I want to be competitive like her and thrive in this sport. Just watching her when I was younger helped me love the game more.”

Sealing the deal this season has been a talented group of Black Tornado players who have risen to the challenge in claiming titles at the Rogue Valley Classic and, most recently, the elite Clearwater Classic (silver bracket).

“I would say for me this year is a 10 out of 10,” said Barry. “I’m having so much fun and we’re playing really good. All the girls are just so nice and funny, we’re competitive and all want to win so it’s nice to be part of it all.”

“We could go really far, in my opinion,” she added. “We definitely have the potential to play really good, and we have played really good at times. I could see us going really far and being really good competition with the top teams in the state.”

For that to happen, it will be no secret where North will get its driving force.

“I think other kids feed off of her competitiveness,” said Munson. “Her will to win and willingness to do whatever it takes to win and push herself is a good example for our younger kids to see. They root for her and they want her to be successful because they can see her commitment to what we’re doing. It’s a really good example for our younger kids and I think it pushes them to do likewise and be competitive and do whatever it takes to win.”

That edge has certainly been needed ever since senior middle Jenna Sandstrom was lost for the year when she tore her ACL, MCL and meniscus during pregame warmups for the Panthers on Oct. 8.

Sophomores Audrey Yechout and Jackie Aukusitino have moved to the middle from their opposite hitter roles to help combat the loss of Sandstrom, with setter Hannah Drysdale doing her best to accommodate a young but talented group of complementary hitters.

Players like Jordan Sandler, Taryn Holmes, Sara Hamlin, Catherine Rostel and Pa’oa Payne Kaeo and Emelia Thiring have helped the Tornado chug along in the heartbreaking absence of Sandstrom, who now serves as a motivational force for her team.

“I’m really proud of everyone and how they’ve all stepped up,” said Barry. “We’re still trying to get used to new hitters and positions but everyone is adjusting pretty well. I couldn’t ask for any more from my team.”

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneLauren Barry makes a hit during practice Wednesday.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneLauren Barry (middle with ball) surrounded by teammates prior to Wednesday nights practice.