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Philip Barbour’s MacKenna Halfin wins volleyball Player of the Year

PHILIPPI — Philip Barbour’s two-time state champion and three-time all-state member MacKenna Halfin was once cut from a volleyball team, if you can believe it.

By her mom, Philip Barbour coach Heather Halfin, in fact.

“Mom cut me when I was in fifth grade trying out for a seventh-grade volleyball team,” MacKenna said. “I was mad at her for a while.”

Coach Halfin, all these years later, has a defense.

“She was two years younger and had never played organized volleyball,” Heather remembered. “She had picked up a volleyball a million times, but she was among some pretty talented girls.”

Heather told MacKenna the words that most parents say when their kid reels from being cut:

“Michael Jordan got cut too,” she said.

MacKenna got to work.

“She did let me practice with them,” MacKenna said of that team. “Growing up in the Philip Barbour volleyball family, I always felt like I had a bunch of older sisters. The girls would always pass with me or teach me how to do different things.”

“She didn’t stop,” Heather said. “She let me know every day that she was not a part of the team and that it was my fault.”

Lifting two state championships and a state runner-up, recording 1,444 kills and being named captain of the Class AA all-state first team for 2023, MacKenna’s list of accomplishments is often unbelievable.

“That was my first loss ever in the Civic Center,” the junior said in reflection of her third state title match.

To add to her list, Halfin was named the 2023 West Virginia High School Volleyball Player of the Year, chosen by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.

“I cannot even describe what this means to me,” MacKenna said. “I have loved volleyball my whole life, and to win something this big is a dream come true.”

She is the second Colt, joining 2018 winner McKenzie Carpenter, to win the award.

Halfin will be recognized at the 77th annual Victory Awards Dinner on May 5, 2024 at River City in Wheeling.

Coach Halfin shed her title when she learned her daughter won the award. It was time to be a mom.

“I cried like a baby,” Heather said. “As a mom, I cried for my kid. This is one of those things that you kind of dream about for your kids. It’s unreal.”

She made MacKenna a tray of brownies, “Player of the Year” written in icing on top, and flowers to surprise her with the news.

“When she looked at it, she was like, ‘I got it?’ She was just — wow,” Heather said.

MacKenna remembers riding in ball carts and learning fundamentals from older Philip Barbour players.

“McKenna DeLancey from Ritchie County babysat me at tourneys,” MacKenna said.

DeLancey was the volleyball player of the year winner in 2015.

“We joked that maybe having the same name would make me just as good as her one day,” MacKenna said.

She saw much of the Colts’ success, five state championships since 2015.

“I remember being in Charleston watching Mom and her teams play at states and win,” MacKenna said. “I remember being so excited to play on that court, thinking one day that it would be me down there winning it all.”

MacKenna’s numbers are robust. Halfin recorded 605 kills in 135 sets. It’s good for over four kills per set. Over 35% of her attacks end in a kill.

It’s easy to wonder how she does it.

“I do a lot of vertical training, conditioning and weightlifting in the offseason,” Halfin said of what it takes. “I met a phenomenal coach at a camp named Ray (Gray). He’s given me workout programs to help me prepare physically.”

Mentally, Halfin’s ability to forget any missed chances and immediately go for another swing is what makes her elite. There is no lost power.

“He taught me that training my brain and being right mentally is just as important as being prepared on the outside,” MacKenna said of Gray.

All the while, she has had coaches pushing her to be successful — including Mom.

“Being the coach’s daughter is not always fun,” MacKenna said. “She’s always harder on me than anyone else — at least it seems that way. As I’ve gotten older, I know that she is only hard on me because she wants me to be the best. If she wasn’t, I know that I would not be half the player I am today.”

Heather finds limitless potential.

“I’ve been around volleyball for a long time, and she’s one of the best that I have ever seen,” coach Halfin said. “Cameron Yoho from Tyler Consolidated went on to play for Marshall. She was phenomenal. As soon as MacKenna started playing, I was like, ‘Gosh, that’s who she is.’ She reminds me so much of the way that she played.”

MacKenna also led her team in digs in 2023 with 491.

It’s common for her to defend the attack, jump out to the line and then make the kill. She rarely leaves the court.

“One thing a lot of people don’t know about me is that I love playing back row,” MacKenna said. “Everyone sees the hit, but my mom has always preached to us that it starts in the back.”

“She’s very defense-oriented,” coach Halfin said. “I like that about her as a player. Sometimes you have solid front-row players and good back-row players. You don’t see a lot of players that are good at both.”

MacKenna joined teammate Katie Kennedy, assist leader, on the all-state first team.

“My setters over the last few years have been great,” MacKenna said. “Without them, I truly would not be as successful as I am. They put a lot of faith in me to do a job, and I do my best to try and not let them down. I appreciate them so much.”

Others considered for the award include Greenbrier East’s Dia Sauvage, Wayne’s Gabby Elliott, Musselman’s Ada McCoy, Williamstown’s Claire Strobl, Oak Glen’s Ashlyn Six and Bridgeport’s Myleigh Smell.

“Over the last three years, I have played with and against so many great players from across the state, so to be named the best is the biggest honor a player can receive,” MacKenna said. “I feel like all those very worthy players helped drive me to become the best player I can be.”

Halfin still has a senior season to play, eyeing a third state title.

“This is a lot of pressure to win this award as a junior,” she said. “That just means that I need to work even harder next year to be even better.”

In the meantime, she is focusing on swim season and club volleyball. Collegiate volleyball is the goal, but she is also open to swimming at the next level.

“I’m playing for RISE volleyball this year on their 17’s national team,” MacKenna said. “I’m also swimming this year. Last year, I placed third in the state in the 50 free. This year, I want to win it.”

Looking back, MacKenna remembers her freshman-season teammates as influences to her present success. Most of them were on that seventh-grade team that she practiced with.

“When I was a freshman, I had some awesome older girls who took me under their wing and were like older sisters to me — huge role models,” MacKenna said.

She looks now to be the same — an inspiration to a younger generation.

“Now, I am the upperclassman, and I want to do all I can to lead my younger teammates and be a role model to them. I love my PBVB family,” she said. “I want to be the best for both myself and my team.”

In many ways, though, she already has.

Perhaps the wide-eyed kids from Kasson, Belington and Philippi who miss an early cut for volleyball can hear something like this:

MacKenna Halfin got cut, too.