A new name in defense

Libero: Beginning this season, smaller players have a chance to make a big impact as back-row defensive specialists.

High School Sports Volleyball

September 02, 2005|By Pat O'Malley | Pat O'Malley,SUN STAFF

Volleyball has found a place for the shorter player. Or at least it has found a position in which that player can excel.

Starting this season, local high schools will be using the libero (pronounced LEE-beh-roh), which is essentially a defensive specialist.

The player gets to wear a different-colored jersey, can only play on the back row, and can't serve or spike.

But she can have an effect on the outcome and probably will for teams who take advantage of the new position.

"Finally, they're recognizing a defensive player in volleyball," Severna Park volleyball coach Julie Allen said. "Your best defensive player can be in there every single play. It gives you more options. And it gives the smaller player who may be a good athlete, a chance to be a factor."

The libero was first used in international play several years ago and was adopted by the NCAA for the 2002 season. It reached the high school level last year, when about 10 states adopted the new rule, according to the National Federation of High Schools. The feedback was positive.

Its use is optional this year by the 184 members of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association. It becomes official under the guidelines of the NFHS effective in the 2006 season, after being approved by the NFHS Board of Directors at its annual meeting in January.

Most coaches are excited about using the libero, especially those who have club experience and know its advantages.

"Some girls are just not tall enough to put it down in the front row and often some of your better defensive players are smaller, and the libero allows your best defensive player to stay on the court longer, " said Dave Trumbo, coach of two-time defending Class 2A state champion Liberty.

"We've got a 5-foot player in Amy Seivold who is a really good athlete and who should be a very good libero for us."

Romonzo Beans, coach of defending Class 4A state champion Broadneck, thinks the new position will enhance the overall quality of play.

"The libero puts the smaller players in the eyes of college coaches, and I think the level of play will go through the roof, " Beans said. "It adds another whole dimension to the game with the libero focusing on defense against the cranking and hitting of balls. You've got to get excited about it."

Centennial coach Mike Bossom, who has led his Eagles to seven state titles, including last year's 3A crown, likes what it does in terms of substitutions (teams are allowed 18 substitutions).

"The libero can go in for anybody on the back row but cannot serve," Bossom said. "The libero is always on the serve/receive half, and while it gives more playing time to some, it takes a little time away from others. I really like it."

Towson coach Jayne Lacy also likes that a team can remain strong defensively throughout a match.

"The rallies figure to be longer, but you will take the big middle out and save substitutions," Lacy said.

Teams must designate who their libero is before each match (only one per game) on their lineup sheet, and the libero must enter the game after the officials check the starting lineup. A different libero can be used the next game, but if a team is not going to use the libero, they must clarify that.

Beans acknowledges that not everyone will take advantage of the libero, but he's eager to share what he has learned about the position.

"It takes awhile to perfect, and I suspect some schools will not use it because of unfamiliarity with it," Beans said. "But I will do my best to help other schools on using it."

Glenelg coach Don Beall is one who doesn't plan to use it at the start.

"I don't see it being any benefit to us right now, " Beall said. "I think it's a pretty good idea, but we won't use it right away. We don't need it at this point."

What's a libero?

The specific rules for a libero player:

Must be designated on the lineup sheet at the beginning of each game

Enters the game during a dead ball or after the initial lineup check

Restricted to performing as a back row player and cannot complete an attack hit when the ball is above the height of the top of the net

Not allowed to set the ball with an overhead finger pass, while on or in front of attack line, to a teammate who attacks the ball while it is entirely above the top of the net

Not allowed to serve, block or attempt to block

Must wear a different color shirt from other members of team

Has unlimited entries into the game and is not counted as a substitute

Must stay in the game for one rally before being replaced

Can only be replaced by player libero replaced

Source: University Interscholastic League

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