From five-year break to sixth man role


Scott Redmond

Cosumnes River College Hawks’ basketball freshman forward Empres Barner looks to deliver a pass in practice on Dec. 3. After five years away from the sport, Barner has returned to the court after seeking out team head coach Coral Sage.

Emily Collins, Staff Writer

It had been five years since her sneakers hit the hardwood floor of a basketball court to play on behalf of her school.

This semester, Empres Barner is playing for the Cosumnes River College women’s basketball team as a power forward, years after playing for Rio Linda High School.

“It feels amazing knowing that my body is still capable of doing things that I did in high school,” Barner said. “Especially after having my son.”

While playing for Rio Linda, CRC womens basketball head coach Coral Sage saw something in Barner and thought she might be able to “help us out.”

“I talked to her a little bit and she seemed interested, and then some things happened with her life so she took some time off,” Sage said.

Walking on to the team in 2011, Barner said she sat in for one practice and ended up dropping because things weren’t working out. This year, Barner sought out Sage and asked about playing.

“I happened to run into her a few weeks into the semester starting,” Sage said. After Barner mentioned a desire to sign up to play basketball again, Sage gave her the information.

“She came out the next day and was there and really surprised me,” Sage said.

Making the team wasn’t the only obstacle for Barner, she has a 3-year-old son who sometimes has to come to practice with her.

“It’s cool how our team supports that she can bring her son to practice when she can’t find a babysitter,” said sophomore point guard Miya Oakes. “I think that’s a real big plus that the coaches are open to it and the players are open to it by supporting her.”

Having spent so much time off of the court has provided some additional challenges to Barner.

“It’s tough, practice for me is like boot camp every day,” Barner said. “You’ve gotta be strong, mentally and physically, otherwise it’s just not for you.”

Others have noticed the challenge Barner faces from having been away from the game for some time.

“Some of the technical stuff you can tell she’s a little rusty on because she’s been away,” Oakes said. “She works hard and she’s strong.”

Barner’s strength is something that is also recognized by Sage.

“She’s very raw,” Sage said. “It’s been taking some time in fine tuning certain things with her, but she’s really surprised me in a lot of ways, just with her ability on the floor, she’s very athletically strong.”

It’s not only athletic ability that makes Barner a valued team member.

“I love her as a teammate, she brings the whole team up with her energy,” said sophomore forward Janie Myles. “Her presence is enjoyable, uplifting.”

Many students can relate to Barner’s five-year hiatus from school.

“School is hard for me,” Barner said. “It’s never been easy for me, I was intimidated by college.”

Being back in school and competitive sports has provided some benefits to Barner.

“Playing on this team, it’s allowing me to strengthen myself and find out who I am as a person, as a woman, an individual and to be a team player as well,” Barner said.

Time and effort seem to be paying off for her.

“It’s taken a little bit of time, but actually, she’s really surprised us,” Sage said. “She’s our sixth man off the bench, she comes in and does a great job, she’s strong, she’s doing a really good job for us this year.”

Not playing on an organized team for years has made a difference, and Barner readily accepts that.

“I’m not the best on the team, especially coming back after five years,” she said.

The talent is there, just waiting to be explored.

“It’s kind of like we’re taking this rough piece of wood and smoothing it out,” Sage said.