Libero: the “unrecognized” volleyball position

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    Six players take the court at one time in a women’s volleyball match, but one player stands out from the rest.

    She wears a different color jersey than the rest of her teammates, and she can come in and out of the back row any time she wants.

    She is referred to as a libero (lee-bah-roh or luh-bare-oh) and, for some, the pronunciation of the position may be as tough as understanding what exactly her role is on the court.

    TCU volleyball’s freshman libero Shane Peters said, “The only thing people know about my job is that they always notice I’m everywhere, and I’m always on the ground.” 

    What exactly is a libero?

    Liberos are defensive specialists who can enter the match for any player on the court, as long as they stay in the back row. 

    Peters said liberos are differentiated from other players by jersey color, but most people don’t know why. 

    “Most people do not necessarily know what a libero is or even understand the concept of a libero,” she said.

    Peters said the libero leads the defense. In fact, she leads the Horned Frogs (15-13, 3-10 Big 12) in the 2013-2014 season with 354 digs.

    “The libero gives information about the other side [of the net] to the hitters, such as what shots are open on the other team or which players are in the front and back row,” Peters said.

    Sutton Sunstrum, a sophomore defensive specialist, has played libero in the 2013-2014 season and is ranked second on the team in digs with 231.

    A defensive specialist is similar to a libero, except she only plays three back row positions with a team’s allotted substitutions. Sunstrum does not wear a different colored jersey and can rotate to the front row if need be.

    “The role of a libero on a team is to keep the team alive,” Sunstrum said. “The libero leads the defense and is a giver in every aspect of the game.”

    Sunstrum said a great part of playing the libero position is surprising people who don’t understand it.

    “Playing libero gets recognition through consistency,” she said. “Other positions get noticed for a career-high stats or a standout match, whereas I feel like libero gets the most recognition for simply keeping the ball alive.”

    What a libero does

    “A team looks to their libero to keep plays alive through defense and to give hitters multiple opportunities through covering,” Peters said. 

    Covering is the act of placing players around the hitter as she attacks the ball against the opponent’s blockers. If the ball is blocked, the libero can make an attempt to cover her or dig the ball off the block.

    “The role of the libero is the second quarterback,” TCU volleyball’s head coach Prentice Lewis said. “The setter is the quarterback, but the libero should be the second best player. That’s how you win matches.” 

    Peters said the most important ability of the libero is serve-receive, which neutralizes the opponent’s serve with a good pass.

    “Being able to consistently produce passes that allow the setter to run all three hitters allows for an unstoppable offense,” Peters said.

    Peters said liberos must have a “ball doesn’t hit the floor” mentality.

    “A libero should pursue every ball to the best of their ability,” Peters said. “No matter what, if a ball is going to the floor, there should be a body underneath the ball.”

    Sunstrum agreed, saying fearlessness makes unbeatable defensive players.

    “As a libero, you have to be able to work as if every ball is yours and play without hesitation,” Sunstrum said.

    TCU’s liberos

    Peters said her role on the team is to play consistently and be a solid passer and someone the team can count on. 

    “As far as defense, my team relies on me to play every ball to the best of my ability and get the job done,” she said. “They have seen what I am capable of in defense and should expect my best every time I step onto the court.”

    Lewis said Peters does what all good liberos should do.

    “She digs a lot of balls,” Lewis said. “She’s a great defensive player.”

    Sunstrum said her role on the team is one of a utility player. 

    “I am constantly filling positions as we need them, and I feel that I am very versatile in that way,” she said. “This helps me to be a more consistent player and to lead by example in more positions than one.”

    Sunstrum said she loves defense because it doesn’t come easy.

    “Everyone can be successful at it, but it is a challenge every day in practice,” she said. “It’s a way to play with aggression and competitiveness.”

    Peters said she loves defense because it is natural to her.

    “It is one of the few things in my life that does not require a lot of thinking,” Peters said. “It is an amazing feeling to dig or pursue a ball nobody believed could be dug.”

    Peters, Sunstrum and the rest of the TCU volleyball team will be in action against Iowa State on Saturday. First serve is set for 1 p.m. in the University Recreation Center.