If there was a script for making dreams come true, Jada Barnes didn’t bother reading it. Instead of following someone else’s script, Barnes decided to write her own.
After playing volleyball for two years at Feather River College in Quincy, Barnes, a 2017 Bret Harte High School graduate, earned a full athletic scholarship to attend South Dakota State University.
For many high school athletes, the idea of attending a junior or community college instead of a four-year university seems like a demotion. But, for Barnes, it was the perfect stepping stone between dreams and reality.
“It’s such a great opportunity for a lot of people, especially in our area where there’s not a lot of ways to get exposure to bigger schools,” Barnes said about attending a junior college. “You can spend two years playing, instead of spending two years sitting on a bench. And if you put in the work, you’ll earn a scholarship at the end of the day, and that’s a rare thing coming out of high school.”
Although Barnes is thrilled with her decision to go to Feather River College, like most high school athletes that wasn’t her first choice. It wasn’t because she thought less of a junior college, rather she wasn’t fully aware of the benefits that could come her way.
“Throughout high school, I totally never even considered going the junior college route,” Barnes said. “I was like most high school athletes who were worried about going to a four-year and getting a scholarship right off the bat. It never occurred to me to go the junior college route and that’s mostly because I didn’t understand the opportunities that it offered. I didn’t get that you could go that route and that if you’re successful, you will get picked up by a bigger school.”
In two years as a varsity starter at Bret Harte, Barnes finished with 558 digs, 584 serves received, 78 aces, 74 kills and 10 blocks. Late into her senior season, Barnes began the recruiting process. While she got some looks from four-year schools, nothing felt like the perfect fit. It wasn’t until head coach Rich Juarez pointed her in the direction of Feather River that Barnes felt that she was where she was meant to be.
Right off the bat, Barnes discovered that there is a big difference between high school and college volleyball. Perhaps what Barnes learned the most was that there were players on her team and opponents across the net who wanted to win just as badly as she did.
“I’m a very competitive person and at Bret Harte or the smaller clubs that I played for, I wasn’t having to play against people who were equally competitive as me,” Barnes said. “Here, these girls are hungry and they are showing up to practice every day and competing with me for my position. I have never experienced that before. You have to show up and work every single day.”
In two years at Feather River, Barnes and the Golden Eagles won back-to-back Golden Valley Conference (GVC) championships, posting perfect 10-0 records each year. At the end of her sophomore season, Barnes was named to the GVC first-team. From her libero position, Barnes recorded 388 digs and had 35 aces.
Once her Feather River career came to an end, Barnes began the search for a new home. After three official visits to South Dakota State, she decided that’s where she wanted to be and accepted the offer for a full athletic scholarship.
“She deserves everything she gets in life because she works so hard,” Juarez said. “She worked hard to get that kind of scholarship opportunity and she deserves it.”
Barnes knows that Brookings, S.D., is not Miami, New York or Los Angeles. It is not at the top of the list for those looking to have a good time. And for Barnes, that’s just fine. She views her time in South Dakota like going to work. She’s going to punch in, give everything she can and do her best, and then punch out.
“They are giving me money to show up and work every day,” Barnes said. “Yeah, it’s in the middle of nowhere, but the town is wonderful and you have so much athletic support that it just blew my mind. Sports are a really big deal out there and that was very attractive about the school. I don’t mind being in the middle of nowhere, because a lot of people would say that I grew up in the middle of nowhere.”
Even though the season won’t begin until the fall, Barnes is already counting down the days to when she can hit the court and prove once again that she belongs.
“I’m excited to show up, go to work and compete for a spot,” she said. “It’s the division 1 level and I’m ready to show up and work every single day. It makes me excited just thinking about it.”