What is a libero?

Sep 242006
Authors: JEFF DILLON The Rocky Mountain Collegian

The most common question freshman libero Katelin Batten gets these days after a volleyball match is: “What are you?”

People aren’t accusing her of looking like a monster out there, although her play sometimes resembles one. They just want to know what the CSU volleyball player’s position is all about – especially as she’s set apart by her assigned game wear.

“I get asked about it all the time,” said Batten. “People say, ‘Are you a captain?’ since I’m wearing a different jersey from everyone else.”

And it’s not just the people talking to Batten who wonder about her position. Some say the libero is one of the newest and most confusing things about college volleyball today. Introduced to the game of volleyball in 1998, and to NCAA volleyball in 2002, it is still a source of questions for the average sports fan.

Truthfully, there is no other position in sport quite like it. Just ask Batten and former libero Katherine Whitney, who is now at the outside hitter position.

“They are an all-time defensive player,” said Whitney. “Their objective is to play defense and to pass. They should touch every single ball that’s in play.”

The libero, which means “free” in Italian, was initially introduced into international volleyball to address a rising problem at the time. Karrie Larsen, an assistant coach for the Rams, played college volleyball at Colorado in the mid-90s and played on the U.S. national team from 1997 to 1999. She was right in the middle of the rule change.

“(The libero) was introduced because, in international play, you were only allowed one sub,” she said. “This gives teams a free substitution.”

Even though NCAA rules allow teams 15 substitutions a game, it still made sense to add the libero to the college game. Since the position is a defensive specialist, it allows teams to have a great serve and attack returner on the court at key times.

“Before they had the libero, there were a lot more serving targets,” said Larsen. “What’s happened is it’s made everything more even, it makes the points longer and adds a lot more speed and excitement.”

Batten said she enjoys playing the position because it allows her to showcase her quickness and ability on the court. Considering she leads the Rams with 157 digs so far this season, her skill is obviously showing.

“You have to be quick to play libero,” Batten said. “Usually a shorter player is there since you don’t play at the net.”

The libero stays away from the net not only just because of her size but also because the rules don’t allow her to play there. The libero cannot block the ball at any time. If it’s in front of the three-meter line (the middle line running parallel to the net), she can’t attack the ball. The libero also can only set if it is overhand and behind the three-meter line.

Confused yet? It all makes more sense once you watch it in action. The libero touches a lot of balls and helps set up the play for her teammates. When watching the Rams play this season, don’t be surprised to see Batten doing a lot of talking and a lot of diving.

“We call her the general,” said Whitney, the senior captain of the Rams. “She receives a lot of serves and also takes them. She is everywhere on the court.”

Whether or not it all makes sense, the libero position clearly has added a lot to the game. When asked if she thought the rule change was a good decision, Larsen was quick to praise the decision.

“I love it,” she said.

Staff writer Jeff Dillon can be reached at sports@collegian.com.


Libero quick facts:

– Term means “free” in Italian

– Pronounced “luh-bare-oh” or “lee-bare-oh”

– A defensive specialist who must play in the back row

– It allows free substitution and does not require prior official’s notice

– Can serve for one other player, but then cannot serve in anyone else’s place

– Has to wear a jersey that is clearly different from the rest of the team

– Is usually a smaller, quicker player with strong passing skills

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