TEWKSBURY - In a game where most people's attention is on who puts the ball over the net, or who can block it from going over the net, Tewksbury High volleyball phenom Carrina Barron does her best work a few inches off the ground.
The junior star has had all the physical tools to succeed at the varsity level since she arrived as a freshman, earning her the rare distinction as All-Conference as a freshman at the position of libero in the Merrimack Valley Conference.
Tewksbury graduated most of its starters that year, and have since then transformed a group of girls unfamiliar with each other into the current No. 1 seed in the MIAA Div. 3 State tournament.
The Redmen have succeeded because they volleyball in a teamwork emphasizing style, but one player who really ties them together is Carrina Barron.
"She's absolutely phenomenal," said Tewksbury coach Allie Luppi. "She's super, super quick so she can get to virtually any ball. So even though she plays middle-back, she does pick up a lot of our short stuff, she picks up a lot of our tips. She picks up the deep balls, she reads well, she really can do it all in the back row."
Barron leads the Redmen in digs, of course, but she can also set, serve and become an effective hitter.
"She's also a great option for us if we are struggling offensively," said Luppi. who also loves Barron's jump serving, which she thinks takes her game to a whole new level. "My setter will go to Carrina, where she can put the ball over and in a competitive fashion. Whether she is jumping or staying down and placing the ball, she's someone we can turn to if we need some security. She's our go-to player if we are in a jam."
Barron credits the Smash Volleyball Club for having the biggest influence on her development in the sport.
"I started really young and it is such a great program," she said. "I love the coaches, I love all the girls there, and my progress has just excelled my whole time being there."
Even though Barron had all the skills as a freshman, she has fine-tuned her game, ever since, by playing year round on different surfaces and in different styles of volleyball.
"I think I've progressed a lot and my team has helped me a lot," said Barron. "I work on volleyball all year round. I've worked on individual skills but I've also been around a lot of people who know volleyball, so not just high school. I've done club, all summer I did grass leagues playing doubles in New Hampshire and in Acton."
And beach volleyball? "Yes, I do that, too," said Barron, with a chuckle.
Luppi has seen the progress in Barron, and through the influence she has had on the way the Redmen have come together in racking up victories this fall.
"The more you play, I think, you become a little more smarter," said Luppi, of Barron's progression since freshman year. "You can tell in her placement of the ball, her voice and presence on the court is stronger. It's not easy coming in as a freshman, and having a starting position. I think as a junior, the confidence level is there and people turn to her. She's always talking and she has huge communication on the court, and I think she's just more comfortable in the back row, knowing where she needs to be."
After coming into an ideal situation as a freshman, playing for an established MVC Small power, last year found Barron in a whole new situation, not even including COVID. Aside from Barron, all the starters were new, and with new reserve players behind them. The Redmen lost several matches before going on a little winning streak at the end of the 10-game schedule. It was a little momentum that has carried over into this year.
"I call last year a building year, with a whole new group of girls," said Barron. "There was a lot of getting used to each other, and a lot of these girls have not played as much as me, so getting exposed to all these different volleyball teams and volleyball groups has just increased their love for the sport and their skill, overall."
The Redmen came into this season with an all-new outlook, a positive one that continued to build as the season went along.
"This year we are so used to being around each other, the teamwork is a lot easier than last year when we were getting used to each other," said Barron. "Balls don't fall between us as much because we know where we should be. All through this season our teamwork has been super-duper high."
There were some early hiccups that led to a 4-3 start to the campaign, but Tewksbury won 12 of its final 13 matches to finish with a 15-4 record and the Div. 3 top seed.
"It's been great, obviously our record shows that," said Barron. "It's been amazing being able to put in all the hard work, and then seeing the rewards from it - first in D3. It's such a great motivator to keep going, and I think all of us are motivated to keep going."
The quintessential Carrina Barron points come when a ball appears hopelessly unplayable, only to have Barron come out of nowhere to keep the ball alive. A startled teammate likewise hits the ball up in the air and a third teammate plays it over the net, and Tewksbury eventually wins the point. A few of those in the postseason would bode well for the Redmen.
"I'm excited, a little nervous," said Barron. "I think we are going to do great."