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Until the dream of winning a championship is snuffed out, it isn't really all that hard to stay motivated.
For Dani Barton, undoubtedly one of the most gifted athletes in recent Utah prep history, the true measure of her competitiveness was revealed when all was lost for her and the Brighton Bengals volleyball team.
The Bengals, first of all, did not go quietly. But in a withering Class 5A state semifinal, Brighton finally succumbed to eventual champion Lone Peak in a five-set match. Down 13-6 in the fifth a practically insurmountable deficit in volleyball Barton, who had totaled 28 kills, got one last block on the Knights and could be seen clapping and urging on her teammates.
That was the end of that would-be comeback, though. Barton & Co., however, returned for a third-place match the next day, and rather than sulk about not playing for a state title, registered a three-set sweep of Bingham. Barton, about to be signed, sealed and delivered to the University of Utah via a December graduation, showed no letup in delivering 25 kills in her final high school athletic endeavor.
It was a career that included a basketball championship during her sophomore year and even a track-and-field splash late in Barton's junior year when she made the state finals of both the 100-meter dash and 400-meter race even though she hadn't run track before.
"Give her a pingpong paddle and she'll be the best pingpong player in two weeks," Brighton volleyball coach Adam Fernandez said. "And she doesn't know how to quit. You say that to kids, and hope they get it, but she actually plays to the whistle."
In fact, it seems that the only thing keeping Barton from finishing off in some things basketball, primarily is volleyball itself.
The 6-foot senior had already decided to give up her last semester of high school in order to register at Utah for classes in January.
"Coach Beth [Launiere] told me that they were going to be taking the team to Europe for tournaments and she wanted me to come. But the only way I was going to be able to do that was to graduate [early]," Barton said. "And they're also starting beach volleyball in the spring,"
That last factor shouldn't be discounted.
Although the Barton clan has as rich of a history with the University of Utah as any family Dani's older brothers, Jackson and Cody, are currently on the football team, mother Mikki Kane-Barton was a basketball player, and father Paul played football and baseball with the Utes Dani had originally planned to go to USC to play beach volleyball.
But other factors, including the addition of the beach version of the sport by Utah, helped sway her return back to the family stomping grounds.
"I went on a visit [to USC] and I knew a bunch of girls in my class who had committed who were a little bit older than me," Barton said. "But they were the kind of girls I didn't really see myself getting along with as teammates. Just the lifestyle down there is so different, I felt like I could easily get distracted and fall off into the deep end."
If and when Barton will be redshirted with the Utes remains a question, although the hard hitter is a lefty, which makes her a natural at the right side position and could open the door for earlier playing time.
But Barton, whose first name is Danielle, is versatile and athletic enough to play almost anywhere.
"The kid's just a freak athlete," Fernandez said of Barton, who smashed 418 kills her senior season at Brighton. "We moved her around quite a bit in the playoffs, too. We could play her at setter if we needed to, and that all goes back to athleticism."
About Dani Barton
School • Brighton
Class • Senior
Position • Outside Hitter
Noteworthy • Totaled 418 kills (which led Class 5A), 268 digs and 71 blocks this season in leading the Bengals to a third-place finish in the 5A tournament. She graduated high school in December to enroll early at the University of Utah. She also led Brighton to a state title in basketball as a sophomore, and reached the 100- and 400-meter finals at the state track meet her junior year.