On April 1st, Erika Hanson Barnes’ run as the Arizona Wildcats interim athletic director will come to an end, but her influence on the current student-athletes will likely live on forever.
Barnes, a former softball player at The University of Arizona until 2001, originally came back to her alma mater because she cared so much about the place.
“I’m so blessed to be working here,” she said on her final Sunday as head of the Arizona Athletics department. “The place I love, the place I’m so passionate about. It’s really neat and an easy thing to sell with these student-athletes.”
And even with her expanded role after Greg Byrne’s departure for Alabama, she didn’t stop caring about the individuals under her.
“I know I can really go talk to her if I need to because I know that she knows what we’re all going through, and she knows the hardships of what this sport and going through college is like,” redshirt freshman Alyssa Palomino explained of her relationship with Barnes on Sunday. “It’s great having her around and doing what she does.”
“That’s nice to hear,” Barnes said through a smile when told what Palomino said. “I think that it goes back to what Coach (Mike) Candrea’s created. He has a really open communication with his players and with his coaching staff and with his support staff, and administration is an extension of that. Obviously I want to give them opportunities.”
It’s definitely no accident what Barnes has become after going through Candrea’s system at Arizona.
“I’m so proud of Erika and who she’s become and what she’s doing today,” coach said after winning his 1,500th career game on Sunday. “To me it’s one of those feathers in your hat as a coach. My big job is to get kids ready for life after softball, and she’s a good example of being able to do that and it’s an honor to work for her.”
“Like he’s said to all his players to have a balance in their life and lead by example, I want to do the exact same thing for these student-athletes,” explained Barnes of Candrea’s impact on how she approaches everything. “It’s one of the reasons I came back to work here actually. I had such a positive experience playing for a coach like him, I want to give back that positive attitude, that daily effort, that grind, blood, sweat and tears, just like we ask our student-athletes to do.”
Obviously the softball players could go talk to Barnes about softball, but she can also relate to them about some of the other things facing them at this stage of their life.
“Just dealing with it all,” Palomino said of what she talks to Barnes about. “Going to workouts, dealing with relationships and stuff like that, she definitely knows how to calm you down and just be like ‘Hey, we have people here that are gonna get you through it’ and we know she’s always there.”
“They come to talk to me a lot about outside of softball,” Barnes added. “Maybe what the next step is if they’re not going to be playing beyond this, about getting their degree, internships, extracurricular things that they can be doing to make them have a better body of work.”
Obviously Barnes’ career path has led to her being at or near the top rung of the college athletics ladder, which allows her to be a very successful role model for the current Arizona players.
“It’s really nice,” she said through a smile about being that person these young ladies look up to. “When I look back at my team, we had so many talented people and you really have to have a diverse group to make up a good team chemistry and good tools to create a successful program, so if I can contribute now to them with what my teammates did for me and the girls that were before me, I think that’s wonderful.”
“I can remember Jenny Dalton sprint between the lines. I can remember Alison McCutcheon. There were so many girls that were older than me that I looked up to.”
“I’m glad that they don’t see me as too old yet, but I think we’re all part of the Arizona Athletics family, so that’s something special.”