One of this season's stories will be how the switch to libero changes the role of Wahine defensive specialists Hedder Ilustre and Melissa Villaroman.

Shoji doesn’t dig
libero rule

The Wahine’s coach says
the change won’t hurt UH,
but it will help opponents

By Grace Wen

Four years after the Federation of International Volleyball began using the libero, women's collegiate volleyball is finally following suit.

The libero, pronounced "lee-bar-ro," is a defensive specialist used to lengthen rallies and increase fan interest. The position was also designed to give shorter players an opportunity to compete in a game dominated by tall blockers and hitters.

But is the libero more liberating than it is restrictive?

Created to be inclusive of more players, liberos are less involved in the other aspects of the game. Liberos cannot serve, block or complete a hit if the ball is above the net. And other players cannot hit a ball if the libero sets it from inside the 10-foot-line.

Adjusting to those new rules could be interesting for Rainbow Wahine defensive specialists Hedder Ilustre and Melissa Villaroman, who have been able to do a little bit of everything in their careers.

Besides their defensive duties last season (Villaroman averaged 1.71 digs per game and Ilustre had 2.06 digs), they combined for 43 assists, 16 aces and nine kills.

"It's just that me or Melissa, we like to hit or sometimes set," Ilustre, a senior, said. "Now we have to make sure we're behind the 10-foot line if we set. We can't serve.

"It limits us. It's definitely a little hard, but it's a good position for short people. The only thing is that it limits you."

The position wasn't meant to be limiting. Liberos don't count toward the number of substitutions a team is allowed so they don't slow down the pace of the game. Liberos can substitute for any back-row player and only have to sit out one rally before reentering the game.

To differentiate the position, liberos must wear a noticeably contrasting jersey from the rest of the team. A team is limited to one libero per match unless the player becomes injured.

Where it becomes intriguing for the Rainbow Wahine is that Ilustre and Villaroman have seen significant court time. Hawaii coach Dave Shoji hasn't decided who to use as a libero yet. Shoji says that Ilustre is more spectacular and can make difficult plays defensively but Villaroman is a more consistent passer.

"It does make it more competitive between us," Villaroman said. "It's one libero per game. It's difficult competing with your teammates for a spot. As long as we all improve in our skills, it doesn't matter who has the title because we'll all contribute.

"As for the team, it's a plus. Our role would be more emphasized. We're in there to dig balls and keep plays alive. It's a good position to have."

The position may be good, but Shoji doesn't anticipate reaping much benefit from it. Playing tenacious defense has been a trademark of Rainbow Wahine teams.

"The libero doesn't really help us," Shoji said. "It's going to help a lot of teams. It won't help us. It kind of evens out the playing field against us because we have players we've trained hard like Lauren (Duggins).

"I don't think other teams train their big middles and big players as much as we do, so they just automatically come out. They never had to play defense. They've never been trained to play defense. It doesn't hurt us, but it's not a rule that's going to help us."

Last year, middle blockers Duggins and Nohea Tano played all six rotations. Ilustre and Villaroman primarily subbed in for then-outside hitter Maja Gustin or Hawaii's right-side attacker.

Shoji sees using the libero in a similar capacity this season.

"It's not going to be just the middles that come out," he said. "That's the way most teams work it, but I don't foresee taking Lauren out all the time. She plays back row all the time. Karin Lundqvist is a very good back-row player and passer.

"We're going to be a little unorthodox when we use it. The right side, in all likelihood, will come out. Our libero may not play all six positions. She may play five.

"The other scenario since we have two good ones, one has the libero jersey. We may use the other one to serve. ... We haven't determined any of that yet."

UH Athletics

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