People undervalue the importance of the libero, thinking that because it doesn't involve jumping or playing at the net, the position doesn’t require strength and athleticism. On the contrary, playing libero demands lots of physicality.
At Nebraska, we look for athletes who can move around the court in a mechanically efficient way. We want players who have great leg strength so they can get in a defensive posture and then move out of it efficiently. They also have to be explosive in all four directions, because volleyball is not a game that’s played just in front. You’ve got to be able to turn to pursue balls behind you and move laterally. You need a strong, steady, balanced platform to move with your lower body to an established position. You’ve got to be quick, because your time frame [to react to] the serve is short.
We want defensive players who cover a lot of court to pursue balls. We want them to be tenacious and aggressive, and to believe that no ball is going to hit the floor. It’s an attitude. You want them flying around and making plays and being aggressive at the ball.
On top of all that, you want someone who has court presence and who will control the defense. You want her to communicate with other players on the court.
We don’t recruit only liberos. We look for players athletic enough to hit and play the net, and who have some size. But if we think an athlete will make a good libero, we’ll recruit her into that position.
Erik Sullivan started at libero for Team USA at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and served as co-captain at the 2000 Games in Sydney. He is currently an assistant coach for Nebraska Volleyball.