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September 27, 2012
Tulsa volleyball opened the 2012 Conference USA season on September 19 with a big home win over SMU. By contrast in 2011, TU lost only two CUSA matches and they were both to SMU. The match was also a bounce-back effort after losing three in the Golden Hurricane Classic. The SMU scores were 25-15, 24-26, 25-23, 25-8.
After a dominant first set, TU struggled in a 24-26 loss in set two. Set three was the pivotal set in the match because it gave Tulsa the momentum to finish the match in set four with a lopsided 25-8 score.
The ringleaders in set three were Tulsa's two left side hitters -- Kellie Culbertson and Diana Silva. In mid-match with the score a 10-13 deficit, Culbertson served the Hurricane to a six point run and a score of 16-13. I thought that run was the turning point of the match. Later, Silva inherited the serve at 19-17 and served a four-point run to 23-17, and that large of a lead is very close to putting a volleyball game out of reach.
Over the weekend, Tulsa swept C-USA matches 3-0 from both Marshall and East Carolina. In those matches, Head Coach Steven McRoberts had the benefit of being able to see much of his freshman class perform under competitive circumstances. I haven't mentioned Tyler Henderson much in these articles because she always does what is expected of her, and that is hit a ton of winners. Defenses come in concentrating on her, but it doesn't work if Tulsa passes well enough to consistently get her good sets.
Another feature in the three wins was that libero Jessica Adams played by far her best volleyball of the season, at least in the games in Tulsa which are the only ones that I've seen. In fact, by the middle of set two in the SMU match, I was feeling confident about the match because I was recognizing the old Jessica, and she has such an impact from the libero position.
Her outstanding play even earned her national recognition, along with a conference honor. On Monday, Adams was named the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week. The next day, she was named the CVU.com National Player of the Week after averaging 7.5 digs per set last week.
Adams, an Oklahoma City native, collected 75 digs over the three-match span to push the Hurricane to a 3-0 start in conference play. She was served to 53 times during the week and had a reception percentage of .981. Against SMU, Adams tied a career high with 31 digs. During the match, Adams recorded her 2,000th career dig to become the first player in school history to attain the mark.
Adams set a career high of eight assists while adding 21 digs in the sweep of Marshall, while she added 23 digs and four assists in the victory against East Carolina.
"She is in an elite group for sure, not only in our school but in Conference USA history as she is climbing the charts for career digs," said Coach McRoberts. "It just shows that she has a solid career, and she has continued that during her senior year. We expect her to finish strong and to be the anchor of our defense, which is in the top 25 in the nation in digs per set, and she is a huge reason for that."
So who is this libero person?
The libero was invented and installed in the international men's version of the sport in 1998 to help defenses have a chance against offenses. The offenses were so strong and the points so short that lots of folks thought it was uninteresting to see the ball being served and promptly spiked into the floor. So a defensive specialist called the libero (I pronounce it lee'-burr-o) was introduced to make the rallies longer. The idea migrated into other divisions of play and it's now universal. Libero is an Italian word meaning free.
An aside I would make here is that if longer rallies make the sport more interesting, then that would make the women's game being more interesting than the men's game, which I believe. Women spikers don't jump as high or swing as hard as the guys, but they are at least as quick in backcourt, and the good liberos are very good defenders against the spike.
The libero is a defensive specialist. She cannot attack a ball completely above the net nor can she set overhanded with finger action unless she is completely behind the attack line. The finger action wording in the rules means that she is free to set from anywhere on the court with a forearm pass. She cannot participate in a block. She wears a different colored shirt from the rest of the players because the substitution rules for her are different from the other players.
Other than the libero, any player who makes an appearance on court can be in the scorebook in only one place for that set. If Miriele Gobbo starts at a center front position and Carly Boatwright substitutes for her, then that's the only position in the scorebook that either one of them can play for that set. But the libero can go in for any back row player almost anytime.
When the libero comes off the court, she must sit out for one rally and then can go back in for any back row player. In addition, substitutions involving the libero do not count against the 15 team substitution limit per set.
There's a little more. The libero can serve in one scorebook position. If you check the box score from the Marshall match, you'll see middle hitter Ashley Hooper credited with no serves. That's because Jessica was replacing her in back row and serving. Jessica was also replacing Gobbo, but the latter served for herself. Jessica could not have served for both of them.
This season, Tulsa's libero is likely always going to be Jessica Adams. She will substitute for the middle hitters when they rotate to backcourt and serve for one of them.
There's one other peculiarity in the substitution rules that allows Coach McRoberts to take advantage of the libero given that she's subbing for both middles in backcourt. On the change of possession in which Adams would rotate into frontcourt and must be replaced by a middle, she can substitute without missing a rally for the other middle who is rotating into the serving position. She can do that for one of the two middles but not both. The other middle must serve for herself.
Importance of the libero
The libero is very, very important. She's the only player other than a 5-1 setter who's executing her specialty virtually the entire match. For example, if Tyler Henderson played every rotation, when she's backcourt, she's really not in a position in which she's doing her main thing, namely hitting winners. The libero and the setter in a 5-1 offense are performing their specialties the entire time they're in the match.
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