Differentiating success from failure isn’t difficult for someone playing the libero position in high school volleyball.
Very simply, do not let the ball touch the floor.
The libero — or defensive specialist — position was added to indoor volleyball in 1999, along with other rules designed to make the sport more exciting through the increased potential of more digs and rallies.
A libero starts a match in the back row. She typically replaces a team’s middle blocker when the latter rotates to the back row.
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“I think defense wins games,” Franklin Community coach Roxanne Chapman said. “Obviously, you have to have to have good hitters to go along with that, but to have that kid who reads the ball and plays great defense is important.
“A libero has to be at the right position at the right time. She has to know where to be when the ball is hit.”
Official implementation of the libero in high school volleyball nationwide came during the 2006-07 school year in accordance to new rules introduced by the National Federation of State High School Associations. The player wears a specific uniform different from those of her teammates.
Playing the position is not for everyone.
Besides split-second decision making, a libero must combine agility with a certain level of fearlessness.
After all, the player on the other side of the net attempting to deliver a frozen rope of a spike isn’t overly concerned about a libero’s well being.
“You have to read the movement of the hitter’s arm,” said Franklin sophomore Brooklyn Peddycord, a former outside hitter who moved to libero midway through her freshman season while playing junior varsity for the Grizzly Cubs.
“It’s pretty difficult. You have to make up your mind pretty quickly.”
Like Peddycord, Center Grove junior Devynn Merriman stands an unimposing 5-foot-5.
And yet Merriman’s average of 3.7 digs per set are as much a part of the Trojans’ 8-4 record as the spikes of junior hitters Ellen LeMasters and Emma Jones or the assists of freshman setter Madison Hammill.
A former setter herself, Merriman began transitioning to libero at age 14.
“What I like most is the defensive part of it,” Merriman said. “The satisfaction of not letting the ball hit the floor. A lot of it is having the mindset that nothing is going to get by you.
“I’m very competitive, so I think that’s where it comes from.”
The adrenaline rush a libero receives from extending her body to keep a ball in play is difficult to replicate, according to Peddycord.
Asked for specifics on her best dig of the season so far, Peddycord, who has averaged 2.4 digs per set during Franklin’s 12-3 start, thinks for a moment before selecting a diving save she made during a recent loss to Class 4A No. 1 Cathedral at the Providence Invitational earlier this month.
“Movement and trusting my teammates are what’s most important. I really like it when I get an awesome dig,” Peddycord said.
Peddycord is relatively new at playing libero and therefore hasn’t subjected herself to as much risk of injury as those who have played the position for a number of seasons.
Because of all of the starts, stops and direction changes, Peddycord wears ankle braces during each match.
All teams are different regarding how they distribute on-court communication responsibilities. Merriman, a three-year starter with 734 career digs entering Center Grove’s match at Warren Central on Tuesday, has earned the right to make her voice heard.
“The libero basically runs the back-row defense, and you tell your hitters where to hit,” Merriman said. “There’s no time to dwell on the last shot.”
• Is a back-row player who is a passing and defensive specialist.
• Must be designated on the lineup sheet. If a libero is not designated on the lineup sheet, the team may not use a libero in that game.
• Is restricted to performing as a back-row player.
• Must wear a specific uniform with a legal number.
• May replace any player in a back-row position. The replacement is not counted as a substitution.