Tucson, AZ (KOLD) – If you want to get a sense of who Erika Barnes is, watch her compete in the annual Wildcat softball alumni game.
"Even today," said her former coach Mike Candrea, "she'll come out here, put her cleats on like she just finished playing yesterday. She'll swing the bat, get a base hit and run it out."
In other words, she plays with the same passion now as she did when she helped win Arizona a national championship back in 2001. Except for one caveat.
"She hasn't gotten older," said Candrea. "She's gotten wiser but hasn't gotten older."
After 11 years of gaining wisdom as an athletics administrator for Arizona, Barnes now finds herself in the driver's seat, taking over (even if just temporarily) for departing Athletic Director Greg Byrne.
"Number one, I think she's a great people person," said Candrea. "I think she's very confident that she can handle some decisions that need to be made. And she's a heck of a fundraiser."
People person, decision maker, fund raiser. The personality trifecta of any strong A.D. But, according to Candrea, Barnes carries it one step further.
"I know she bleeds red and blue," said Candrea. "She's been around here for a while, worked her way up the ladder, and you've got to feel good about someone who's put the time and effort in."
After graduating in '01 with a degree in communications, Barnes worked for Fox Sports before moving on to play professional softball with the National Pro Fast Pitch League. There, she picked up sales and marketing experience. In 2005, she took what she learned and returned to her alma mater. By 2010, she'd received her M.B.A. from Arizona's Eller College of Management. From 2011 to 2013, she was in charge of major gifts. By 2013, she'd replaced the retiring Kathleen "Rocky" LaRose as senior associate athletic director and senior woman administrator.
"I was a little shocked that she chose the path that she did," said Candrea. "She really wanted to get into business. Got her M.B.A. and I thought that might spring her in a different direction."
The business acumen can be attributed in part to Barnes' father Rich who made a name for himself in the fitness equipment business.
"When I recruited Erika, I just had a good feeling that he understood what it took for people to be successful," said Candrea. "He always knew when to give her space and when to give her the advice that she needed. I just feel elated that people feel the way they do about her to give her this opportunity."
As for whether this opportunity is a long term deal, even Barnes had to pause at the idea.
"I really just want to focus on this semester, however long this position might be," she said in Monday's press conference.
That's understandable especially given where Barnes is in her life. She and her husband, former UA golfer Andy, are parents to a 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son. As Byrne displayed, being an athletic director means being on the ball 24-7.
"It does take some thought to whether you want to do this or can do this," said Candrea. "But from talking to her, there's no doubt. I think she was very sure now that she could help keep moving this department in the right direction."
All that moving takes energy. Barnes appears to have plenty of it.
"I have incredible passion for this place," she said. "I get incredibly emotional thinking about it."
It's just like Candrea said. 15 years after she last suited up in a Wildcat softball uniform, the passion remains the same - even if the suit itself has gotten a little more formal.
"She hasn't really changed since she played here," said Candrea. "She's still the same Erika Barnes that I knew."
And if she runs the athletic department like she runs to first base that can only bode good things for her future.