'Abby never quit'

Tom Batters
Dunlap senior Abby Barra was named the school's Outstanding Female Athlete of the Year.

When asked to say the first thing that comes to mind when they hear the name “Abby Barra,” Dunlap girls soccer coach Wayne Miller and girls basketball coach Joe Wenskus gave similar responses.

Miller: “She’s a no-nonsense player, who is mentally tough. She plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played. She is not flashy, but she is very, very good, and you will not find a player who works harder than she does.”

Wenskus: “She works extremely hard and always gives an all-out effort. She’s very quiet, but she’s smart and she leads by example. She does what she is asked to do and never complains. She’s the kind of player coaches love to have on their team.”

Barra, winner of the Dunlap High School Outstanding Female Athlete of the Year award, was an All Mid-Illini Conference selection in soccer and basketball, and she maintained a 3.9 grade point average for her high school career.

She impressed her coaches with her hard work and total effort, but Miller and Wenskus said they will miss Barra the person, even more than Barra the athlete.

Miller: “I’ve known her since she was a student in my sixth grade class and a participant in my soccer camp many years ago. She has always been a great kid. She is one of the nicest kids you’ll ever meet.”

Wenskus: “I’ve never seen her be disrespectful to anybody. On the court, she’s a fierce competitor, but, off the court, she gets along with everybody.”

Barra said she was honored to win the Outstanding Athlete award, and that her coaches had such complimentary words to describe her, but she said she doesn’t entirely deserve all the accolades.

“I’ve been lucky, I guess. I’ve played with some great teammates,” she said. “Soccer and basketball are team sports. If you do well, then it’s because of the team you have around you.”

She is best friends with Brittany Meeks and Lisa Gestrine, two fellow seniors on the basketball team. They played sports together since they were in fourth grade.

“They do everything together,” Wenskus said, laughing “If you see one of them, there’s a good chance the other two are somewhere close by.”

Looking back on her athletic career, Barra said she has a lot of fond memories, but the biggest one is from the 2007 Regional soccer game against Metamora.

The game was tied, 0-0, at the end of regulation, so it went into penalty kicks.

Barra was the first player to kick for Dunlap, and she made her shot. Brittany Merriman made a shot in sudden-death to win it for Dunlap.

“I was so nervous,” Barra said. “When we won, it was awesome.”

Barra’s specialty, however, was defense. In both sports, she was often given the task of shutting down the other team’s best scorer.

“She made it tough for teams to score,” Miller said. “Abby never quit. If it was a 6-0 game with 30 seconds to go, she was still out there hustling, trying to shut down the other team.”

Miller said Barra was actually capable of playing any position on the field, but she excelled at defense.

“She could have been one of the top goalkeepers in our conference, if we chose to play her at that position. She would have been a great midfielder, too,” he said. “But, as a defender, she was the best. Casual fans may not have noticed, but anybody who watched the games closely would have seen that she was by far the best defender out there.”

Barra, the daughter of John and Kathy Barra, will major in accounting at Illinois State University next year.

She said she has always liked math, so accounting was the perfect fit.

“I love numbers,” she said. “When I was little, my father would give me math problems, and I always loved playing with equations. I took an accounting class, and I really enjoyed it.”

She said she thought about playing college sports at other schools, but decided it was time to put sports aside to focus on academics.

“I might play club soccer, but I want to do well in school, so that’s my main priority.”