Volleyball: More than a fashion statement

Playing libero means a different jersey, skill set

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Merry Hammack is frequently asked why she wears a different colored jersey. Hammack is a senior on the Ponderosa volleyball team, and a libero.

“Everyone in high school asks me because they have no idea,” said Hammack. “Why are you not wearing a black uniform instead of a gold one? Then I have to go through and explain.”

Libero is a position that is not limited by rotation rules and can substitute freely. That’s the main reason for the different jersey so the libero can be tracked.

The libero, or bro as it is sometimes called, is responsible for passing, ball control, digs and getting to every ball she can possibly retrieve. She can’t, however, attack and can serve once in every rotation.

“We have a black jersey and a cardinal jersey,” said Ponderosa coach Rob Graham. “The libero must have a contrasting color. The way we present it is we give our libero a gold jersey. So we call it the gold badge of honor. When you are wearing this, everybody in the gym sees that gold badge back there and understands that we as a coaching staff say that is our best defender and passer. Only one person gets to wear the separate jersey and it’s a pretty big deal for coaches.”

Chaparral coach T.R. Ellis knows she needs a good athlete and leader to be the libero.

“What I tell my kids is the libero has to be tons better than any other defender on the court because she is going to get to play six rotations,” explained Ellis. “So she has to be substantially better because you want her controlling the ball. She needs to be someone who is quick on her feet, can make great decisions, can read where the attackers are going to hit the ball and get there.

“She has to be comfortable going for a ball outside of her body, stay on her feet if she can, but if she has to go to the floor, be comfortable playing the ball then hitting the floor and recovering on the floor. She has to have great hands and she has to be able to put the ball up and be a great passer as well. She’s the quarterback of the defense.”

Libero is an important position that often goes unnoticed except for the different colored jersey. The position was added to the game in the late 1990s to help create longer rallies.

“It’s a thankless position,” said Graham. “It’s overlooked. If I was to make a team you might want to choose a big outside hitter as your No. 1 choice and maybe center right up there. With those players, you want a libero. Volleyball is definitely turning into a big person’s sport. The libero gives a home for somebody that is maybe undersized but has great speed and a great feel for the game.”

Hammack, who is 5 feet 5, wishes more people would notice her play rather the odd jersey she wears.

“It’s really a bummer to see people noticing only the big hitters and the middles,” said Hammack. “We should get some recognition for all the hard work we put in.”

This season in the Continental League there will be several teams hoping to gain recognition. Mountain Vista and Legend are two of the preseason favorites with Rock Canyon, Ponderosa and Chaparral expected to be contenders.

Lutheran, the defending Class 2A state champion, has only three starters back and will have to mature as the season progress.