Barrett becomes a star by setting up others

In volleyball, the setter has to check her ego at the door. Though her assists are integral to the success of the team, they'll never create the visceral reaction of a killer spike or garner roars from the crowd.

But Westlake's (Austin, Texas) 6-foot senior setter Elly Barrett is so good at what she does that she's forced people to pay attention. Barrett averaged 28.5 assists per match last fall to earn All-American honors from PrepVolleyball.com and Central Texas Player of the Year honors from the Austin American-Statesman. Despite receiving the type of recognition normally reserved for a high-flying outside hitter, the Cal-Berkeley recruit still boasts the humility of a setter.

"With the setters, it's not about them," Westlake head coach Al Bennett says. "They get their recognition by the hitters getting kills. They're the whole glue that makes everything run."

Barrett learned this philosophy while serving as a varsity backup as a freshman and sophomore. During those seasons, she picked up numerous pointers on how to be a floor leader from starting setters Bailey Drenner and Kayleigh McNelis.

"It's important to make the hitters look good," Barrett says. "You have to be focused and ready to go all the time. It's really exciting, and it brings up the energy in the game when someone has a kill after you set them up."

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By watching Drenner and McNelis and taking note of all their subtle contributions, Barrett prepared herself to contribute at the varsity level. That time came during her junior season.

Drenner and Barrett were slated to split time at setter last year, but that plan was scrapped when Drenner suffered a season-ending ACL tear over the summer. Bennett opted to open the season with a one-setter system, leaving Barrett with a ton of responsibility in her first year as a starter.

And thanks to a difficult early-season schedule, she didn't have the opportunity to ease into things. The Chaparrals opened the season by participating in three highly competitive events: the Duncanville Tournament of Champions, the New Braunfels Fraulein Fest and the Pearland Tournament.

While it was a daunting string of matches for a first-year starter, Barrett embraced the opportunity in a big way. She was selected Most Outstanding Setter at Duncanville, where Westlake placed second. She then guided the Chaps to first-place finishes at both New Braunfels (where she was named All-Tournament) and Pearland (where she grabbed MVP honors).

"By the end of that third week, everyone was taking notice when they saw how well she managed the team," Bennett says. "She made everyone else look good."

And Barrett was only getting started. She led Westlake all the way to last year's Class 5A state finals, where the Chaps fell to state juggernaut Amarillo in three games. She was named to the All-Tournament team and finished the season with a whopping 1,196 assists to go with 212 digs, 75 kills and 47 aces.

Barrett didn't take her foot off the gas this summer during the club season, as she led the Austin Juniors 17 Mizuno team to a Junior Olympic title while earning tourney MVP honors.

True to form, Barrett credits her accolades to her supporting cast, such as club and high school teammates like junior Sara Shaw and senior Abby Howden.

"Those tournaments were really fun," Barrett says. "But you have to have a great team to get those (awards). It was a team effort that I got those."

Maybe so, but it was Barrett who got everything started by setting up her teammates with
on-the-money passes.

"It doesn't matter if it's on the run, the ball comes off the same," says Glen Lietzke, Barrett's club coach. "She has a very exceptional temperament and knows what each kid needs, when they need it and how they need it."

She's also an exceptional leader, much the same as setters like Drenner and McNelis were for Westlake in the past. In fact, Barrett credits Drenner for helping ease her transition to varsity starter last fall.

Even though Drenner missed her entire senior season with her knee injury, she still showed up regularly to give Barrett pointers during practice and help her with in-game adjustments during matches.
"I'll always look up to her for how she handled the situation," Barrett says.

To further her development as a leader, Barrett takes a leadership and communication class at Westlake called Teen Teaching. In the class, she works with students from elementary and middle schools on everything from reading and writing to increasing self-confidence and improving peer interaction.

Those communication skills have carried over to volleyball for Barrett, who has followed Drenner's lead by teaching younger setters the finer points of the game. Her leadership is also evident on the court, where she refuses to lose. During the Junior Olympics over the summer, Barrett helped her club team survive two match points in its quarterfinal contest, twice coming up with crucial assists to help the squad advance.

"She's just consistent," Lietzke says. "It doesn't matter what the score is, she just expects to win and has a plan on how to get it done. Her consistency and her perseverance are just exceptional."

"She's the dream player to coach," Bennett adds. "She's very, very coachable, very even-keeled and plays the big points big. That's what you want in a player. To have a teenage player have that type of composure and be that mature and coachable is a special type of person."

It also makes her a special type of setter.

Jon Mahoney covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.