It's hard to comprehend when an athlete says: "I'm happy that I tore my ACL." But when St. Charles East senior Erienne Barry says it with such sunny conviction you've got to believe her.
A peppy 6-foot Daily Herald All-Area setter with a resume's worth of honors from metropolitan and national media due to her play for St. Charles East and Marengo-based Club Fusion, the 2009 Prep Volleyball.com 2009 National Freshman of the Year finalist has a history of success on the court since she picked it up in fifth grade at St. Patrick Catholic School in St. Charles.
Playing with Club Fusion has taken her to Europe twice the past two years, plus won a national championship in 2009. In 2011 Erienne (pronounced "Erin") aided the Saints' Class 4A third-place finish.
She's the second-youngest of Blake and Donna Barry's four children, following 23-year-old sister Alicia, older brother Bryce -- a linebacker at Butler -- and junior Brannon, one of the Saints' top football players. Tearing her ACL as a sophomore in a match against St. Charles North may have scared off collegiate programs such as Northwestern, Oregon and Missouri, but St. Charles East's floor captain is psyched to play for Western Michigan on a full scholarship.
Q: What kind of pain were you in when you injured your knee?
A: I didn't hear a pop. I felt the pressure of it, if that makes sense. I thought I just badly bruised my bone. I kind of blacked out for about five seconds. I don't really remember the pain, but I scooted off the court and pulled down my kneepad. I knew it was my knee right away. It kind of was an indescribable pain.
Q: You were out seven months, yet you say you're glad it happened?
A: Tearing my ACL I always said was a blessing in disguise, since I knew who really wanted me and how I loved the game. That (seven months) was my break forever. You don't really get a break in volleyball, and once you unwillingly get a break you actually know that you love the game. And when I did tear my ACL I learned the game from a coach's perspective.
Q: Does your knee bother you now?
A: Not at all. I don't let it faze me for one second.
Q: How did you become a setter?
A: When I was little I always wanted to be a setter. I'm not the best hitter, so (Saints assistant) coach (Mike) Bui, I call him my creator ... he kind of molded me into the setter than I am today and the player that I am. I definitely would not be where I am today without him.
Q: What's been your biggest volleyball achievement?
A: My eighth-grade year. I always played up in club, so I was 14 playing on the 15 team, we won a (Junior Volleyball Association) national championship my first year setting with coach Bui. That was amazing.
Q: How was it being downstate last year with the Saints?
A: State was amazing. It would have been awesome beating Benet because we have such a great, fun rivalry with them and besides, who wouldn't want a state title under their belt? But third place was awesome. I was so close with my team, I wouldn't trade it for anything. The experience and the people I got to meet was amazing. The feeling you get when you step out on the Redbird Arena court is indescribable, to the lights and the people and the sounds. Plus our East super fans were just absolutely amazing.
Q: All right, your name; very pretty, with a couple extra vowels?
A: My name is old Irish. My mom saw it in a book. Since my last name is so simple she wanted to complicate my life. Seriously, I love it. I wouldn't change it. I can't find it on stickers and I can't find it on water bottles.
Q: Between Bryce and Brannon, who hit you the hardest?
A: Brannon, because we're so close in age, so we always had a competitive side to each other. Bryce is my best friend, I love him. He's always the person I want to call and want to talk to. Alicia is kind of my fun side. We always have fun together. No matter what we're doing, we always have fun. I get the different angles from everyone.
Q: Barbecued ribs or lobster?
A: Barbecued ribs.
Q: Ice cream cone or chocolate chip cookie?
A: Chocolate chip cookie.
Q: Hash browns or green bean casserole?
A: Hash browns.
Q: That was a trick question. Here's one, though: What was a lesson taught to you by your siblings?
A: Play for people who can't play at all.
Q: What are your expectations of the college experience?
A: No. 1, education. No matter where I am, studying comes first. No. 2, I have to work hard, so that means working out, being a good teammate, going to bed on time, just overall having a great work ethic. And third, be a good friend. That's No. 1, too, because you have to be a good person. Just because you go to college you can't completely lose yourself.
Speaking of Saints volleyball ...
The second annual Ashley Marie Smith memorial volleyball match will be played Oct. 18 at Lake Park's West Campus in Roselle. The match is special because it salutes the late Ashley Smith, a member of St. Charles East's 2001 Class 2A state championship squad whose mother, Barb, taught for years at Lake Park.
Funds raised during the game and by drawings for an iPod shuffle and a variety of gift certificates will go to The Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. Due partly to proceeds from last year's memorial match $10,000 was raised for that cause.
Marine biology was the focus of Ashley Smith, who died of a bacterial infection at age 26 on June 16, 2010, in Australia. Specifically, her focus was coral disease, which Smith went out to pursue after first completing her bachelor's degree -- and her collegiate volleyball career -- at North Carolina-Wilmington in 2006 and earning a master's at the University of Hawaii.
Interested in how disease has killed coral reefs in the Florida Keys and in the Pacific Ocean, Ashley Smith eventually found a strain of bacteria causing the disease and a way to curb its spread. Her work, and her untimely death, initiated a memorial to her at the University of Hawaii.
In addition to contributing at the St. Charles East-Lake Park match on Thursday, donations may be sent to the Ashley Marie Smith Memorial Fund, 39 W. Madison St., Villa Park, IL, 60181.
One more collegiate (duo)
We've had them in here before, and we ran a batch of college achievers last week, but this is good stuff.
Augustana junior Kim Sawyer (Batavia) and senior Krista Panko (Geneva) became Augie's first College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin individual women's tennis champions since 1999 in the CCIW meet Oct. 6 at Elmhurst College. Sawyer's win at No. 1 singles was the Vikings' first CCIW title in the top slot since 1997; Panko won at No. 3 singles. Both players have more than 100 victories at the college level.
Quote of the Year
This didn't fit with last week's college achievers theme but despite lack of timeliness concerns all that is right about high school sports. It's a quote that concluded Daily Herald correspondent Dave Heun's story of St. Charles East's 34-27 football victory over Geneva, which ended the Vikings' string of consecutive playoff appearances at eight.
Geneva head coach Rob Wicinski's message bears repeating.
"I want the kids to get better, stay healthy and have a great experience," he said. "I never got into this for the wins and losses, I got into it for the relationships with the kids, and I have seen unbelievable progress by some of these kids this year."