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Cedar Falls’ Kiana Barney pulls up for a jump shot over Cedar Rapids Washington’s Jayla Pledge-Johnson during the first half of Friday’s game in Cedar Falls.

TIFFANY RUSHING, COURIER STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

CEDAR FALLS — A thirst for competition is among the shared interests within the Barney family.

Cedar Falls junior Kiana Barney’s introduction to the sport of basketball quickly forced her to find a way to compete with older boys.

“When I was younger, my older brother played on an AAU team,” Barney recalls. “It was all boys, but my dad started making me go to practices with them, and I started liking it from there.”

Kiana frequently attended high school and college games with her dad, while she worked to develop her basketball skills alongside her older brother, Isaiah. She also has four younger siblings, and there’s rarely a quiet moment on the Barney’s backyard basketball court.

“My family is a sports family,” said Kiana, whose dad Willie played football at UNI and mom Jody ran track for the Panthers. “Competition is a big thing. When we’re not rooting for each other, we’re going against each other. One thing we do a lot is go out and play each other one-on-one.”

Barney’s strong basketball background has allowed her to make an immediate impact for a Cedar Falls team that has climbed to a No. 3 ranking in Class 5A as the Tigers pursue a third consecutive state tournament appearance. The returning first-team all-Mississippi Valley Conference selection is well on her way to 1,000 career points and averages a balanced stat line of 13.2 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.1 steals.

Last May, Barney committed to follow in her parents’ footsteps as an athlete at UNI when she accepted a scholarship offer from women’s basketball coach Tanya Warren.

“I’m excited because both of my parents went to UNI,” Barney said. “Tanya, I’ve known her ever since I was growing up, and I’ve always dreamed of playing for her. ... It just felt like the right place as soon as she offered me.”

Now standing 6-foot-1, Barney is a versatile weapon. She grew up working to develop a point guard’s skill set before playing more of a post role on her Barnstormers AAU team. Building an accurate 3-point shot has also been part of the development process for Barney, who is shooting an efficient 47 percent from the field and 81 percent from the free throw line.

“We knew coming in with that background and experience that she definitely had a drive to want to excel,” said Cedar Falls coach Gregg Groen, who pulled Barney from Peet Junior High to the varsity team her freshman year. “It’s been fun to watch her grow. Each year she becomes more confident in what she can do on the court.

“I just think it’s the continual work that isn’t seen by a majority of people or teammates that happens out of our practice time where she’s either shooting or playing games in the offseason.”

Barney is as versatile on defense as she is on offense.

“When I was younger, since I was tall, it was not easy for me to be quick on defense,” Barney said. “It was something I really worked on.”

The junior hasn’t had to look far for support. She credits chemistry as the key ingredient that has allowed Cedar Falls to compile a 57-10 record during her career. State tournament trips to Wells Fargo Arena have ended with Barney and company embracing their final moments as teammates with strong senior classes.

“Each year we have seniors and we know it’s their last time so you have to make the most of it,” Barney said. “It’s really just about spending time with them and having the best time that you can.”

This year’s Cedar Falls team is hitting its stride at the right time. The Tigers have regrouped from a 62-40 loss to Iowa City High with wins in their last 14 games.

“Against City High, that loss wasn’t fun for any of us,” Barney said. “I know we didn’t want to feel that feeling again. We came to practice the next day, worked even harder. Confidence was a big part in the win over Iowa City West (a 75-66 victory over 5A’s No. 4-ranked team). We came out knowing that we wanted to win, so we played like that.”

The regular season ends Saturday with a big game as Cedar Falls tests itself on the road against Class 5A’s No. 1 Indianola. While Barney characterizes her high school team as a group of hard-working girls determined to return to state, Groen is confident his junior will eventually take that work ethic to UNI.

“She’s committed so much time to the game of basketball and I don’t see that changing,” Groen said. “I think she’ll not only want to perform well at the collegiate level, but she’ll want to make a difference for the Panthers.

“With her ability to shoot from the outside, her size, that inside-out game, that gives her a big upside going to that college level.”

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for The Courier

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