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Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Dani Barton, outside hitter for Brighton High School and the Deseret News Ms. Volleyball 2016, poses for a photo at the school in Cottonwood Heights on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016.
The best thing about her is that she's driven. Nothing is going to stand in the way of her playing her best on the court. —Brighton volleyball coach Adam Fernandez

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — She was just a scrawny seventh-grader, but it was impossible not to see the athletic potential in Dani Barton.

“It was obvious from the beginning,” said Brighton volleyball coach Adam Fernandez. “She came to my team camp as a seventh grader, and she probably would have made my varsity team as a seventh-grader. I thought, ‘I can’t wait until this kid is in ninth grade.’”

Barton’s raw talent was so obvious, and seemed to extend to anything and everything she tried.

“She’s just an athlete,” Fernandez said of the senior outside hitter who is this year’s Ms. Volleyball. “She’s more athletic than any other kid on the court. That’s the first thing that comes to mind. She’s the best female athlete in the state, hands down. You could give her a ping pong paddle, and next year, she could be your state champ.”

Barton, who has already graduated and will be attending the U. on a volleyball scholarship in January, finishes the season with 418 kills; but more impressive than the total kills, is her hitting percentage: .570.

Fernandez said her effectiveness was never more evident than when Brighton beat Bingham in the state tournament to claim fifth place.

“We beat them in three sets and she had 26 kills on 33 sets,” he said. “That’s just phenomenal.”

Barton served 91 percent with 36 aces, and she had 71 total blocks.

She led her team in digs with 268.

If her athleticism gives her an edge when it comes to learning sports’ skills (she plays volleyball, basketball and runs track), her work ethic transforms her from good to great.

“The best thing about her is that she’s driven,” Fernandez said. “Nothing is going to stand in the way of her playing her best on the court.”

In fact, when the Bengals run ladders (sprints across the court that require six touches of the floor and direction changes), there is always the same winner.

“(Her teammates’) goals are to beat Dani,” Fernandez said. “That’s quite the accomplishment because she always wins.”

Barton nearly chose USC over Utah because her real passion is beach volleyball.

“That’s her goal: to go to the Olympics in beach volleyball,” said her mom Mikki Barton. “She has a gift for the game. It’s been just a joy to watch.”

Mikki Barton, who earned her own scholarship to the U. in basketball, but then also played volleyball her senior season, coincidentally for the same coach her daughter will play for — Beth Launiere.

Mikki said that the fact her two older brothers play football at Utah, as well as her best friend and beach volleyball partner, Torre Glasker, contributed to her desire to attend Utah. The deciding factor, however, was the fact that Utah added beach volleyball to its list of offered sports.

“She’s always just loved whatever she’s been involved in,” Mikki Barton said of Dani’s affection for all sports. “”But once she started playing sand volleyball, I think that opened up a whole different level of joy.”

Mikki Barton believes playing indoor volleyball for the U will make Barton even tougher to beat on sand.

“It requires a higher level of athleticism,” Mikki Barton said of the indoor game. “She’ll get her best volleyball out of playing indoor.” Both her mom and her coach said the development of her leadership skills comes from her commitment to putting in the work necessary to win. Because Barton played basketball, she only played a couple of years of club volleyball — an unusual thing for a player of her caliber.

“She was pretty raw for indoor,” Mikki Barton said. “Sand is really where she had a lot of offers.”

However, playing with her high school teammates, some of whom don’t play club, actually brought out the best in Barton.

“It’s easy to be great when everything is perfect,” said her mom. “It helped her become a leader because it taught her to play with players (of all levels). I’m so proud of how she’s become good friends with them and just encouraged them. She’s realized she can make any team better.”