Left, BYU sprinter Marianne Barber runs the anchor leg of the 4x100 meter competition at the 2023 NCAA West Preliminary. Right, the fleet-footed Cougar freshman will soon report to the Washington Yakima Mission. (Photos courtesy of BYU Photo and Marianne Barber)
Why the ‘anchor’ of BYU’s history-making 4x100m relay team will soon be answering to ‘Sister Barber’
Cougar sprinter Marianne Barber is hoping to race to more history at the 2023 NCAA Track and Field Championships before reporting to the MTC.
By Jason Swensen
5 June 2023
At some point, all elite sprinters typically hang up their spikes and move on to life’s next chapters.
But sprinter Marianne Barber is anything but a typical.
For starters, the Brigham Young University freshman is still a teenager. Her best years on the track are almost certainly in front of her.
Plus, Barber is in top form as she prepares to play pivotal roles in a pair of relay events (the 4x400m and the 4x100m) at this week’s 2023 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. She is running as fast as ever.
But following the NCAA nationals, Barber will temporarily stow away her running spikes to serve in the Washington Yakima Mission.
Barber has enjoyed an unforgettable rookie campaign in Cougar blue. She admits the decision to step away from the track to labor full-time was not always easy. She spent months praying about the life-changing choice before submitting her mission papers.
“In the end, I just knew that if I served a mission, I would be blessed,” Barber told Church Ball Magazine. “I have full confidence that I will be able to come back and be even stronger because I was able to serve the Lord.”
The soon-to-be-Sister Barber’s expectations as a missionary are simple and clear:
“I just want to share the light of Christ with other people. I’ve seen that light in many people who have been great examples to me — and I know that sharing that light will bring me the most joy that I could ever feel.”
As a first-year D1 competitor, Barber has already enjoyed historic moments of athletic joy.
At the recent NCAA West Preliminary competition in Sacramento, California, the fleet-footed freshman was selected to run the anchor leg of the Cougars’ 4x100m team. During the meet, Barber and her relay-mates (Adaobi Tabugbo, Jaslyn Gardner and Dolita Shaw) dashed to BYU history with a school-record time of 43.84.
The quartet also qualified for the NCAA national championships in the 4x100m — another BYU first.
Barber admits it was a bit “nerve wracking” running the 4x100m anchor leg when there was so much on the line. “But I knew that my teammates would put me in a good position. I had full trust in them.”
Brigham Young University’s record-setting 4x100 meters women’s relay team celebrates after making school history by qualifying for the 2023 NCAA Track and Field Championships. (BYU photo)
BYU sprints coach Kyle Grossarth said his composed young freshman was the ideal athlete to run the high-pressure anchor leg in the 4x100 meters.
“Marianne had proven herself well in big competitions… and I felt really good about her ability to close out the relay for us and bring it home,” he said. “And that’s exactly what Marianne did.”
Barber giggles looking at the action photos of her accepting the race baton, running hard “and making weird faces.”
“I was just running my heart out because I wanted to do it for all the girls,” she said.
Barber was also part of the 4x400m squad that qualified at the NCAA West Preliminary for the upcoming nationals. She teamed in that relay event with BYU’s Meghan Hunter, Clair Seymour and Brilee Pontius.
Playing key roles in two nationals-qualifying relay events was thrilling for Barber. It’s even more thrilling, she added, to qualify as part of a relay team. Each of the BYU relay athletes are “running for each other.”
“Looking back, we worked for [that success] all season,” said Barber. “Our coach has worked us so hard so that we could all be peaking at the right time. It really does show that hard work pays off.”
One final pre-mission competition: the NCAA championships
Barber was a soccer-loving high school freshman when she realized she was unusually fast. She began racing in track and field for Utah’s Farmington High School. Despite facing obstacles such as injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic, she graduated from high school with a Utah state title in the 400 meters and runner-up state honors in the 100- and 200 meters on her track resume.
After reporting to BYU, Barber’s sprinting confidence shot up as she absorbed her coaches’ instruction and competed alongside her decorated teammates.
From the beginning, “Marianne was someone who was extremely coachable and did everything I asked of her,” said Grossarth. “She just put her head down and went to work.”
Barber plans to pack a jump rope in her missionary luggage and “do the little things” to maintain a fitness baseline. She expects to return home from her mission in March of 2025, giving her several months to recover her sprinter legs for BYU’s 2025-2026 track and field seasons.
But before she reports to the MTC, Barber intends for her final pre-mission competition — the 2023 NCAA championships — to be a memorable one.
“We are just excited to prove what we can do,” she said. “We know that we can run just a little bit faster and hopefully become All-Americans.”
Coach Grossarth acknowledges that the BYU squad will miss having a speedy athlete such as Barber on its roster. “But I think Marianne is going to be a phenomenal missionary. She is making a great decision in serving the Lord. I’m excited for her to do that.”