Libero is typically not the flashiest position in volleyball. The libero isn’t allowed to attack the ball any higher than the net, so they can’t come up with a big block or slam home a momentum-changing kill. They also can’t set an attacker from the front row, essentially limiting their play to the back row.
But despite so many limitations and rules regarding the play of a libero, it is an important position to volleyball teams. The libero often is the key defender on good teams, leading their squad in digs and making plays on big kill attempts by their opponents.
Western Washington University seems to have the inside track on great liberos, boasting five of the top 20 career digs leaders in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, including senior Samantha Hutchinson.
Coming into the 2014 season, Hutchinson was seventh all-time in career digs in the GNAC, but with 745 digs this season, she is now second. Sitting in first is a WWU alumna, Courtney Schneider, with 2,695 digs.
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Hutchinson isn’t just dominant on defense by GNAC standards, she leads the nation in digs per set, with 7.23. That is almost a full dig per set better than the next closest libero or defensive specialist, at 6.44.
Her efforts may not be as flashy as an explosive kill or block, but Hutchinson still garners plenty of attention. She was recently named the GNAC Defensive Player of the Year for the third consecutive season.
“Sam not only plays great defense, she’s the eyes on the court for us,” WWU coach Diane Flick said in a press release. “She works with the block as much as she plays the ball, and it’s nice to have a leader on the court who is also such a productive player.”
The Vikings, ranked No. 15 in the most recent AVCA Coaches Poll, will need to rely on each player to fill their role nearly perfectly to make a run at the NCAA Division II National Championship. They qualified at No. 3 as an at-large bid for the West Regional rounds of the tournament and face No. 6 California State University San Bernardino in the regional’s opening match.
WWU took a five-set loss to San Bernardino earlier this season, when the team was looking for Flick’s 300th career win. The Coyotes were ranked No. 8 in the nation at the time, and the Vikings were No. 12. San Bernardino seems to have WWU’s number, holding a 10-2 advantage in meetings between the two teams.
“Cal State San Bernardino is always a tough opponent,” Flick said in a press release. “They are great to play because they are so physical and well coached. It's going to be a good match. I think every regional match will be because all the teams are really strong.”
Also qualifying from the GNAC are No. 1 seed and West Regional host Northwest Nazarene University, No. 2 seed University of Alaska Anchorage, and No. 4-seeded Central Washington University.
The Vikings open the West Regional with their match against San Bernardino at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 20, at Northwest Nazarene University.