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VOLLEYBALL: Eagles Set For Future Success Behind Leadership Of Sen, Barnum

Heights Staff

Published: Sunday, September 9, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

Your average sports fan probably does not know much about volleyball beyond the names Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh. Ask them what a setter does or what role they play on a volleyball team, and you’re likely to get a blank stare.

Football has its quarterbacks, basketball has its point guards, and volleyball teams have their setters. The Boston College women’s team is lucky to have two up-and-coming stars in Cagla Sen (pronounced Cha-La Shen) and Kellie Barnum.

“You make the calls, you organize your team and essentially you are the leader of the team,” Sen said of her and Barnum’s position. “[A setter] is really the quarterback of the team.”

And for an Eagles squad that is slowly emerging from the shadow of its lackluster past results, Sen and Barnum are two of the major keys to leading the side towards a brighter future.

Sen, a 5-foot-11 junior, arrived on the Heights three years ago from Istanbul, Turkey, where she grew up through high school. Playing club volleyball for the Eczasibasi club team, Sen earned her way onto the Turkish national team in 2008. The story of how she ended up in Chestnut Hill is a bit more simplistic than one might think.

“I’ve always wanted to study here [in the USA] and play volleyball, since about fifth grade,” Sen said of her journey. “I made a video and sent it to all the coaches, literally using Wikipedia to find the schools. [BC head coach] Chris [Campbell] responded, so I’m here now and it’s been a great opportunity for me.”

Sen stepped into the BC starting lineup right away as a freshman and eventually would go on to lead the team in assists, with 476 on the year. She served as one of the few bright spots during Campbell’s first season as head coach on the Heights, as the team finished a woeful 1-19 in the ACC.

Sen’s sophomore season was not as much of a success, as the now junior experienced injury setbacks that would see her miss all but a few games of the campaign.

“I was out for almost the whole season,” Sen said. “It was pretty tough mentally. I came back after a couple of months, and I was just mentally done. I was trying to make up for the practices and games that I had lost, but it just didn’t happen and led to a tough season.”

Between moving halfway around the world and her health issues, Sen has had to deal with a lot of adversity. But this uncommon journey has seen her come out hungrier and more motivated to lead this young Eagles team.

Barnum’s volleyball career has been more straightforward, and her personal success has seen her named as one of the two captains of the squad by Campbell. The sophomore joins senior Krystle Higgins as the recognized leaders of the side.

“It’s been really good,” Barnum said of her ascension to the captaincy. “It’s hard to gain respect from the upperclassmen, but I think that the juniors and seniors do respect me and what I can do. I also think it’s easier to connect all the grades together with my age.”

The California native stepped into the void at the setter position created by Sen’s injury last season, and like Sen, she flourished in her first collegiate campaign. Barnum was recognized by the ACC as Freshman of the Week, one of the few accolades earned by an Eagle in the past few years. She also finished 10th overall in the ACC in her assists-per-set average (7.86), while posting a team-high 684 helpers on the season.

 When asked about the impact that Barnum and her fellow captain, Higgins, have had on his team this year, Campbell waxed poetic of his two leaders.

“They have both done very well,” said Campbell. “They both understand that leadership is more than being the ‘knight in shining armor.’ It works so that everyone else is empowering other people to bring out their best. Leadership is more about service than it is about giving orders. They both understand that at an intuitive level, it’s just who they are and that’s been very good for us. They have handled it very well, I’ve been very happy with them.”

In leading the team to its current 6-4 record, Sen and Barnum have established themselves as integral parts of a clearly tight-knit group of girls, both on and off the court. Especially with their past struggles, the two understand the necessity of fostering a strong team dynamic, but also they know that it starts with each other.

“I think we are very lucky to have a great supportive relationship,” Sen said of her and Barnum’s connection. “Not a lot of other teams’ setters have that. We try to help each other out as much as possible.”

However, it is not just the team dynamic that has led to this season’s fast start, as the players are quick to point to Campbell as being instrumental in the program’s as well as their own personal development.

Campbell came to the Heights three years ago, the year in which he made Sen one of his first recruits, albeit from around the world. The following season he brought in Barnum, and the fact that the trio has seen the program improve each season perhaps accounts for their fondness of the coach.

“He knows what he’s doing, he’s really intelligent in terms of volleyball IQ,” Sen said. “I think he does a great job balancing professional relationships with being there for you when you’re struggling. He’s very supportive.”

“He wants us all to create good habits,” Barnum added. “Not all coaches give their players the tools to create those habits.”

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