Season Preview: Liberos
Aug. 22, 2012
SEATTLE - When you think of a prototypical star volleyball player the image of a tall, high-flying, hard-hitter comes to mind. But as with most sports, defense and ball control are just as crucial though often overlooked.
Washington's crop of defensive specialists, led by veterans Jenna Orlandini and Kelly Holford, will be the players most often getting the first touch to make the offense move, or chasing down the ball that keeps the Huskies alive in the rally. Passing only gets magnified at the higher levels of volleyball, and while passing is a cornerstone for every Husky, the defensive group must be rock solid.
Orlandini returns as starting libero for a third straight season. In 2010 she was tasked with filling the void left by Tamari Miyashiro, who just earned an Olympic silver medal in London with Team USA. Orlandini had the opportunity to watch and learn from Miyashiro throughout her redshirt season and the transition has been smooth. Orlandini has led the team in digs each of the last two seasons, and her current rate of 4.72 digs per set is second highest in school history and she already ranks ninth on Washington's all-time digs list.
Head Coach Jim McLaughlin wants Orlandini to develop her mental approach to the game now that she's reached such a high level physically. He knows that the sky is the limit for Orlandini once she masters that aspect of the libero position and can operate quickly and efficiently.
"No one moves like Jo," McLaughlin says, "But I want her to let go and play outside of herself more, just not have to think too much about the game and just go and assess on the run and process information as she's moving. When she learns not to hesitate, she'll be a part of more plays which upgrades our team."
Along with Orlandini, the Huskies return another veteran defensive specialist in Kelly Holford. The senior from Long Beach, Calif., got a few runs at the libero position last season when McLaughlin felt UW needed a spark, and Holford brings a great steadiness to the back line. Since UW went to the 6-2 system last season, that cut into the team's substitution chances and Holford did not see as much time as in 2010, but this year she could see her playing time jump back up again.
In addition to her physical skills, Coach McLaughlin loves the attitude that Holford brings to the team.
"Kelly is one of the toughest kids I've ever coached," McLaughlin said of the senior. "Kelly is not afraid. Kelly will go for it. I love that about her. She puts everything out on the floor. She's smart and you can trust her, and that's reflected in her game."
Redshirt freshman Kim Condie out of Moraga, Calif., will provide depth at the position for the Huskies this year. Though she has yet to see action in college Condie is no stranger to leading a defense. As a senior at Campolindo high school she was team captain and helped her team to a 34-3 record and a Division-III State Championship.
Orlandini and Holford may have the edge in experience but McLaughlin likes the progress that Condie has made, saying that she will compete for the spot or, at the very least, prepare to take over the reins once the older players leave.
McLaughlin lays it out there that if Condie can "close the gap, she gets the job. It's up to her to go get it this year and like every kid in our program no one's going to give you anything. How badly do these kids want to go do the things they need to do to obtain what they want?
Rounding out the team's defensive specialists is true freshman and Redmond native Justice Magraw. She was named team captain and team MVP in both her junior and senior seasons at Redmond High School. Magraw was invited to walk on to the squad because the coaching staff loved the intangibles she brings. First though, Magraw is still building strength back in her knee after a surgery at the end of 2011. So she is not yet participating fully in practice drills and a redshirt season would seem likely.
"Justice has a volleyball IQ that's unbelievable. She could play outside or set," McLaughlin says. "But right now the first order of business is health."
Another expected new addition to the group, freshman Cassie Strickland, is putting her libero skills on hold for a bit this fall, as she has been taking swings at outside hitter. The Huntington Beach, Calif. native was a standout outside hitter in high school despite standing just 5-foot, 8-inches tall, and because of her height she was expected to convert to a defensive specialist in college. Strickland was judged to be an excellent libero prospect, and she has shown good skills in passing to be sure, but the coaches have liked her fire on the outside and for the moment that appears to be her main position.