The Duncan Banner
Melanie Barnes still remembers when her tennis career got started, the days when a competitive spirit that still drives her began to take shape.
Starting in second grade, Barnes had to start playing middle schoolers to find a fair level of competition. By the time she turned nine, Melanie was showing up at her father Phil Barnes’ practices to challenge Duncan’s high school players. When middle school came around, she become the top ranked player in Oklahoma and one of the top tennis players in the Missouri Valley.
That’s the way it’s always been for Barnes – doing everything she can to find the next challenge. The greatest competition she’s taken on has come in the years after Duncan, finding success in the college ranks at Tarleton State University.
“I’ve always loved the competition, I’m a natural competitor who hates to lose,” Barnes, now a senior at TSU, said. “Tennis has just become second nature for me, I can’t imagine it not being part of my life.
Throughout the seasons under her dad’s tutelage playing at Duncan, Barnes helped elevate the school’s girls tennis program to the next level. As part of three runner up teams at the Class 5A State Tournament, Barnes played in the No. 1 singles slot all four years, constantly adding more and more accolades to her resume. In a career highlighted by four appearances on the Oklahoma All-Star team, two runner up finishes at state, being named an All-Stater and winning the Jim Thorpe Award her senior year, it’s the memories of the time she spent getting to know her teammates that stand out the most to Melanie three years later.
“When I think of tennis at Duncan, I think of how close I was to my teammates,” Barnes said. “We shared a lot of success together, and through that time became really good friends.”
The success Barnes enjoyed at Duncan has translated to the college game. Barnes was named an All-Lone Star Conference singles player after playing in the No.3 and No.4 singles slots and owns a winning record in both singles and doubles play. Heading into her senior season, Barnes has gone 14-6 against NCAA competition in singles play and 11-8 when playing in doubles. Barnes has continued to win, but the victories don’t come as easy as they used to in high school, she said.
“In high school, you’re usually playing a difficult match in the finals at tournaments, but every single match in college is hard. Nothing comes easy,” she said. “You have to be thinking all the time about how you’re going to beat your opponent and you can’t take any matches off.”
Ironically, that improved level of competition has led to less pressure for Barnes compared to her high school days.
“Before college, you just couldn’t lose certain matches,” she said. “That’s not how it is playing in college because everyone you play is so good. That leads to less pressure for me playing.”
For coach Barnes, who tries to see as many of Melanie’s matches at TSU as he can, pressure was something he felt almost any time Melanie stepped on the court.
“It was rewarding and a great time, but it was stressful,” Phil Barnes said. “But it brought us closer together and we were fortunate to have a lot of success.”
Melanie agreed that all those years learning from her father on the court led to a stronger bond between them off of it.
“It was just such a special experience being able to be coached by him,” she said. “He was always tough on us and that carried over to the way we played. As a tennis coach, when he isn’t working at practice, he’s working at home. It’s non stop.”
With one year left in school, Barnes, who is majoring in social work with a minor in political science, isn’t completely sure what the future holds but is considering going to law school.
“I’ve prayed about it a lot recently, it’s just one of those things where God will put me on the right path and guide me wherever I end up,” Barnes said.