No Beating Barboza

On Wednesday, Cynthia Barboza was named the Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year, adding to her collection of national awards and domination in the volleyball world. At 17 years, Barboza was the youngest member of the USA women's national volleyball training team last year, making the 2004 Olympics as an alternate. This fierce competitor and standout student-athlete now brings her game to Maples Pavilion this fall...

In the Barboza household, family-friendly games like Pictionary and Trivial Pursuit have been banned. Not because board games are boring, but because Cynthia Barboza, the youngest daughter of Bob and Jane, can get a little out of control and her desire to win has caused many game nights to end prematurely.

"I try to avoid board games at all costs," confesses the 18-year-old. "Monopoly is the absolute worst. I can't play it. I have to give myself timeouts."

Throughout the years, Barboza has learned to channel her intense competitive nature to the hardwood and as a result, she is widely considered the No. 1 high school volleyball player in the Class of 2005.

One only needs to spend a few minutes observing Barboza on the court to understand why she was considered one of the most coveted recruits of all time. Her hard-hitting style and impressive array of shots had hundreds of college coaches salivating at the thought of signing the 6'1" outside hitter. Her explosive athleticism and 10'6" vertical reach earned her a spot on the United States Senior National Team the past two years. Her amazing defensive abilities and devastating jump serve caught the attention of fans everywhere. And her physical gifts and skill set aren't the only reasons why many have pegged her as a future All-American. Barboza is a cerebral player with the ability to dissect information regarding her competition and uses it to her advantage.

"I believe she studies the game well. She's always a step ahead of what is going to happen on the court," says Joy McKenzie Fuerbringer, Barboza's longtime club coach. "It's a combination of listening to the coach, watching the game, studying her sheet that the coaches give her… she knows it all."

As a senior at Wilson High School (Long Beach, Calif.) this past season, Barboza tallied 586 kills, 50 blocks, and 64 aces, taking the Bruins to the CIF-Southern Section Division I-AA semifinals. Her status as the top prep player in the nation was solidified after she garnered her second consecutive Gatorade National High School Player of the Year award, becoming the only volleyball player to achieve such greatness. In addition, when's Senior Aces, an annual index of the top 100 seniors, came out in Fall 2004, Barboza was at the top of the list. While she has made a name for herself by dominating her peers at the high school level, Barboza is also considered a rising star on the international circuit and many believe she will play a vital role for Team USA in the future.

In the summer of 2003, Barboza was named to the U.S. Senior National Team that won the bronze medal at the Pan American Games held in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Only a junior in high school, Barboza held her own against many international veterans that littered the opposing teams, and she played an integral role off the bench for her country. Head coach Toshi Yoshida was so impressed with the youngster's poise and versatile game that he asked her to audition for the upcoming Olympic Games, to be held in Athens, Greece. As a volleyball player, the opportunity to play in the Olympics was just too good to pass up, but as an active member of the student body at Wilson High School, the decision wouldn't be so easy. Moving thousands of miles away from family and friends was a huge consideration, in addition to how she would continue with her education. For three weeks, the pros and cons of trying out for the Olympics were debated in the Barboza household, and many different coaches were consulted in figuring out what the best course of action should be. In the end, Barboza stood up at the dinner table one night and announced to her parents that she was going to the Olympic Training Center in hopes of making the 12-woman roster.

Weeks later, Barboza boarded a plane for Colorado Springs, Colo. and her Olympic quest officially began. Competing against former collegiate All-Americans and professional all-stars for a coveted spot in the final line-up, Barboza was tested on a daily basis to see whether or not she would be able to handle the physical and mental rigors of the selection process. Spending eight hours in the gym, including lifting and conditioning, would be taxing enough for one person, but Barboza had the additional challenge of maintaining her 4.0 G.P.A. Through independent study, correspondence, and email, she was able to keep up with her studies, finding time between practices and late at night to hit the books.

Barboza survived the first two rounds of cuts, but at the end of the six-month trial period, her name was not included on the official Olympic roster, as she was named an alternate. While she headed home in obvious disappointment, Barboza handled the setback with maturity and came away with a new found resolve and determination.

"I think what happened was she came home and she was very reasonable with it," states her father Bob. "I think that when you are in a situation when you are that close to making the Olympics, it set her up where she would never want that to happen to her again. I think she came away with that kind of attitude."

With the retirement of several key players from the National Team, many experts have already anointed Barboza as the future leader of USA Volleyball, although her down-to-earth personality suggests she is nothing more than a typical teenager. Barboza, who graduated from Wilson High School a semester early and pursued independent studies in both Shakespeare and first-year Latin in her spare time, cites two of her favorite hobbies as sleeping in and hanging out with her friends. Her family enjoys her dry wit and sarcastic humor ("I'm probably the dumbest one in my family. I'm always trying to play catch up."). And her ability to find humor in any situation, no matter how embarrassing, is one of Barboza's trademark characteristics. This approach to life served Barboza well when she traveled to Europe with her club team a few years back. On their night off, she and a few teammates went to an 18-under dance club to relax and have fun. After dancing to a few sets, Barboza discovered she had ripped a huge hole in her pants in front of a crowded room. While such an event would mortify most teenage girls, Barboza was unfazed. After a teammate offered to trade pants with her, Barboza continued to dance the night away.

"[Former teammate] Marci Hampton encouraged me to do a move we used to do when we played on the Junior [National] Team together," recalls Barboza. "It was like an old move from our dark, dark past and she made me break it out again. My pants weren't ready for those type of explosive moves."

Barboza will take her pant-busting dance moves with her to Stanford University this fall, but rather than trying out for the Stanford Dollies, she will employ her elite abilities on the volleyball court. The incoming freshman is the Cardinal's sixth Gatorade National Player of the Year in the last 10 years and her impact will be felt immediately, especially with the graduation of All-American Ogonna Nnamani.

When Barboza signed her letter of intent to attend Stanford last November, a lifelong dream was fulfilled. Her parents had always stressed the importance of education, and Barboza grew to admire Stanford for the balance between high academics and successful athletics. Barboza actually vowed she would go to The Farm on a soccer scholarship, as she was a talented goalie in her youth. However, after watching Olympic gold medalist Misty May play at Long Beach State, soccer became an afterthought to volleyball.

Barboza's potential in volleyball was noticeable even at a young age. She first joined the Seal Beach Volleyball Club and later switched over to Mizuno Long Beach Volleyball to study the game under McKenzie Fuerbringer. Only a year after picking up the sport, Barboza received her first recruiting letter as a seventh grader – from Stanford. Over the years, through hard work and dedication, she honed her all-court skills and evolved into one of the top players in America.

When it was time to choose a university, it was hard to turn away storied programs like Long Beach State, UCLA, and USC. It was especially difficult for Barboza to say no to her hometown university, as she and her family had many ties to the school. Both her parents received their teaching credentials at Long Beach State, and Barboza knew many of the players and the coaches on the team. However, Stanford's prestigious academic reputation was difficult to overlook and in March 2004, she committed to head coach John Dunning.

"I had to selfishly look at what was best for me and I couldn't just pass up a free education at Stanford. That is really what it came down to," Barboza reveals.

As Barboza prepares to suit up in the Cardinal and White, an enormous amount of pressure will be placed upon her shoulders. The burdens and expectations of being the only two-time Gatorade National Player of the Year and an Olympic alternate could be a detriment to such a young player, but Dunning has the experience to deal with such precocious athletes. The team atmosphere he has created in Palo Alto should help ease Barboza into the world of college volleyball.

"She already knows that she is not more important than everybody else [on the team]. She wouldn't want it any other way," Dunning offers. "If we do a good job being a team, she isn't going to have to feel that way... and besides that, I think she can handle it."

"Cynthia has always performed at a high level, so [the expectations] are nothing new for her," adds Nnamani, who played with Barboza on the 2003 Pan-Am Team. "She's going to grow beyond the expectations, there's no doubt in my mind."

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