Emily Hiza | Colorado State Assistant Coach
I like my liberos in left back. I’ll explain why in a little bit, but first let me tell you about our middles at Colorado State. One of them, Kirstie Hillyer, is 6-7, and the other, Axi Poletto, is 6-4. They both are quick laterally, and they’re a great fit in our blocking system of scheming and calling where we think the opposing setter will set on the first ball of serve-receive.
Our middles don’t fly in late or leave a seam for the middle back to read into. We typically have our pin blocker block line. Opposing outside hitters either start out trying to avoid this wall, or they adjust quickly after getting roofed a few times.
The result of our big block is that lots of balls get funneled into left back. So it’s extremely important that we put a player with the right credentials in that crucial defensive spot.
Most coaches will tell you that their first priority for a libero is serve-receiving. I agree with that. I also look for a really good athlete who has great foot speed and can react quickly to hard-driven balls that haven’t been deflected off the block.
Typically, liberos are some of the smaller people on the court. Some coaches use their libero in middle back, which makes sense since a lot of hitters hit there. But I like having longer bodies playing middle back because middle backs have to lay out for a lot of balls and are expected to cover a lot of ground in all directions. A 6-foot player can cover more ground with one step and an extended platform than a 5-6 player.
Shorter players have something going for them, too. They’re naturally closer to the ground, which makes it easier to get under hard-driven balls, a hugely important skill for left backs who have to dig cross-court heat.
In selecting the right libero for the job, I look for how the player bends and I also look at the flexibility in their hips. I want liberos who look comfortable, who can move fluidly in a low defensive position and who can get into deep-lunge positions (both sideways and forward) while still being able to put their entire platform on the ground.
A good left-back libero can frustrate opponents by courageously taking on their hardest swings with sprawls, collapses and fearless pop-ups. And nothing in volleyball creates more momentum for your team or more excitement for the fans than a great dig.
Emily Hiza is the Assistant Coach at Colorado State. In 2015, she was named to the AVCA Thirty Under 30 list. The list recognizes rising talent within the volleyball community.