In the 2019-2020 campaign, the Binghamton women’s basketball team went 22-9 overall, starting the season 9-0 and recording their most wins in 21 years. However, with the departure of all five BU starters from last season, sophomore guard Zahra Barnes is expected to step up into a bigger role on this season’s new-look team.

“[I] definitely [want to be] more of a leader,” Barnes said. “Having to fill [former Binghamton guard] Kai Moon’s spot [will be] difficult. [But] that’s motivating for me and [I want to help] everybody in terms of facilitating and filling my role to the best of my ability as point guard.”

Barnes acknowledges that replacing the previous starters will require a collective effort from returning and new teammates. That being said, she is very encouraged by what she’s seen so far from her team.

“The team is definitely looking a lot different this year,” Barnes said. “I know everybody has to step up — especially the returners. [Last year], I was lucky enough to be under the tutelage of [Moon.] Those are some hard shoes to fill, but I’ve learned a lot playing against her in practice. We’re looking pretty good. We’re working together pretty well. Our chemistry [will] build together over time. I’m confident in this group. I’m excited.”

Last season, Barnes was a solid contributor off the bench. She scored a career-high 10 points against Delaware State — going a perfect eight-for-eight from the free-throw line. Additionally, she dished out five assists in back-to-back games against Austin Peay and Grambling State.

One of the primary reasons that Barnes opted to play for the Bearcats was because of the opportunity to play under head coach Bethann Shapiro Ord.

“[Shapiro Ord] made me feel like she really wanted me here,” Barnes said. “I could feel the love of support [from] her immediately before even stepping on campus. She really cares about us as people and that’s what drew me here.”

For Barnes, basketball is bigger than the game itself. One of her favorite things about basketball is the relationships that arise from it. This is strongly evident in her relationship with her teammates and coach Shapiro Ord. When she was younger, basketball allowed her to cultivate a strong bond with her father.

“When my dad started coaching me around fourth grade, it brought me and my dad a lot closer,” Barnes said. “That’s where [my love for basketball] got started. As I got older, I learned so much about teamwork and life lessons.”

She has also drawn inspiration from professional basketball player Skylar Diggins-Smith. As a female athlete, Barnes considers Diggins-Smith to be her role model. Barnes loves what she has done off the court by using her platform to spark social change.

“I think [Diggins-Smith] created a big platform, not only for her skills and [for] young women looking up to her, but to speak on bigger issues, which is important [considering] the current climate today,” Barnes said. “She [is] easy to look up to.”

Besides playing basketball, Barnes has always enjoyed singing. Since Shapiro Ord knew that Barnes enjoyed singing, she suggested that Barnes sing the national anthem at one of the games. Last year, before the game against Hartford, Barnes sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“I’ve been singing for a really long time,” Barnes said. “I took voice lessons from third grade until seventh grade and since then I did chorus. It’s something that I’m passionate about besides basketball, so my coach knew that and suggested that I sing the anthem.”

She also takes pride in being a scholar-athlete, as she has won numerous academic awards such as being named to the America East Commissioner’s Honor Roll. Although she excels in her coursework, she understands the challenges that come along with being an athlete to perform academically.

“[One challenge is] definitely time management,” Barnes said. “Obviously, we’re practicing and working out a lot. Any [block] of time where I can get my work done, it’s definitely a priority for me.”

On the court, Barnes said that she hopes to improve her shooting ability to become a triple threat as she takes on an increased role this season for the Bearcats.

“[I am looking to] extend my range a lot more shooting-wise,” Barnes said. “I want to be more of a triple threat, which would include getting better with that outside range. I’ve been getting extra hours in the gym. I’m excited.