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Utah’s Dani Drews is following in her family’s footsteps and blazing new trails

Drews’ older brothers, Cody and Jackson Barton, played for the Utah football program and are currently in the NFL. Oh, and she’s married to Christian Drews, a former Ute football player

Utah’s Dani Drews spikes the ball during a volleyball set against the Southern California Trojans at the Jon M. Huntsman Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021.
Utah’s Dani Drews spikes the ball during a volleyball match against the Southern California Trojans at the Jon M. Huntsman Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021.
Annie Barker, Deseret News

One of the senior leaders of Utah’s undefeated women’s volleyball team is a fierce competitor with strong, longstanding ties to the school. You could say that she’s following in her family’s immense footsteps.

On the other hand, outside hitter Dani Drews is making her own mark and blazing new trails for the Utes — who at No. 7 hold the program’s highest ranking ever.

Drews, a two-time All-American and Brighton High product, is the daughter of two former two-sport athletes — Paul Barton, who played football and baseball at Utah, and Mikki Kane-Barton, a member of the Crimson Club Hall of Fame and a two-time honorable mention All-America basketball player (she also played volleyball for the Utes).

Drews’ brothers, Cody and Jackson Barton, played football at Utah and are currently in the NFL. Oh, and she’s married to Christian Drews, a former Utes football player.

That’s quite the pedigree chart.

“They love to compete. That’s the bottom line with that family. They find joy in competing,” Utah coach Beth Launiere, who’s in her 31st season at the helm, said of the Bartons. “That’s what makes the difference to be successful at this level. You have to love to compete. That’s what it’s about for them. Dani was raised in that environment. I knew Mikki and Paul when they played. You see it in their brothers and Dani’s no different.”

Drews leads the Pac-12 this season with 143 kills and she has been named the league’s Offensive Player of the Week twice so far.

Growing up, Drews naturally learned a lot from her parents and her brothers.

“My family has raised all of us to be super competitive and strive to be the best at what we do,” she said. “I’m super grateful for those lessons I learned from my parents and my brothers. I look up to them a lot. To me, they are really good examples of hard work paying off and going after your dreams. They’re my biggest role models.”

What was the Barton house like when she and her brothers were kids?

“It was really loud. A lot of roughhousing. It was really fun. There was never a dull moment, that’s for sure,” Drews said. “We were always outside, running around, playing catch, throwing the ball back and forth or shooting baskets together. I was always the annoying little sister, following them around, doing whatever they were doing.”

These days, Drews is trying to help the Utes (8-0) go places they’ve never been before.

“We’ve set out to make history for the program, which we’re already doing with playing in this COVID-19 year, playing in the first spring season,” she said. “We want to go far in the (NCAA) Tournament and be bold enough to go after a national championship.”

Drews’ dominance has been a result of her diligent development. She owns the program’s single-season kills record with 643 and sits in fourth place in all-time kills with 1,486.

Drews will shatter that all-time kills record if she returns next fall. With the NCAA pausing the eligibility clock for athletes, that’s something she could do. But Drews hasn’t made a decision about that yet.

On the court, Drews is a relentless force.

“I don’t think she ever feels like she can be stopped. Teams can slow her down for a bit but she’s playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Launiere said. “She has a lot of ways to score and she knows that. In terms of her development, that’s probably the biggest thing — she’s increased her offensive tool box. Now she can do all kinds of other things. She’s always been a great athlete but she’s developed her tool box. She believes she’ll score eventually if they take something away.”

Launiere has relied on Drews and the other seniors to guide Utah’s younger players — particularly this season during a pandemic.

“She’s a very positive leader. She knows how to influence people around her. She plays with such great energy and joy for the game — joy for competition that is infectious,” Launiere said. “She affects people around her. That’s how she leads. She’s a good teammate. She talks one-on-one with her teammates. She affects people around her by her work ethic and energy and positiveness. She’s also a good teammate. She checks in on her teammates. She’s a good person.”

Drews has enjoyed her time at Utah and can’t believe her career has passed so quickly.

“It feels like I just started college but it’s almost been five years,” she said. “I’m the oldest on the team now. When I started, I was the youngest because I came in as a 17-year-old. It’s gone by really fast. But I think it has paid off being a senior now because I feel like I can see the game differently now and I have a better court IQ and I make better decisions during the games because those are situations I’ve been in before.”

Launiere said Drews is “one of the top, if not the top” outside hitters ever to play at Utah.

“She’s a really well-rounded athlete and player. Not just physically but mentally,” she said. “She’s breaking records and she’s having a great career. But more than anything, her leadership and her ability to affect the people around her, she stands out that way as a really humble servant leader. You want that in your top players. That’s a nice type of leader to have.”

Despite all of Drews’ connections to the U., Launiere said it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that Drews would play for the Utes.

“I didn’t take her for granted. I felt like I needed to do the work with her. And I did. We did,” she said. “We treated her just like we treated anyone else. There was a time when she entertained playing beach. There were some great beach volleyball programs that offered her scholarships. Her mom wanted her to play indoor. She can always play beach down the road. She was a late-bloomer. I knew I wanted her from the start. Other programs realized later what a talent she was.”

When her Utah career is over, Drews would like to pursue a professional career.

“I want to give it a try and see how far I can go. It’s a little different being married. It’s a different decision because (Christian’s) job is here,” she said. “He’s super supportive and he wants me to go as far as I can with my volleyball career.”

Her brothers have found success in pro sports. Jackson is an offensive lineman with the New York Giants and Cody is a linebacker with the Seattle Seahawks. Drews has enjoyed seeing her brothers live out their dreams in the NFL.

“I’ve been places with Cody and people want to take a picture with him and get his autograph at a random place in public,” she said, adding that Cody attended last Sunday’s five-set victory against USC. “It’s interesting because I still view them as my brothers, the same old guys. But it’s cool to see that they’re in the league and people know who they are. I like that they still act the same as before. They haven’t let it go to their heads. They’re the same people. My family have always been my No. 1 supporters.”

When the Barton family gets together to play volleyball, who wins?

“They’re pretty physical at the net,” she said of her brothers. “But I’ve got the ball control on them.”