Archive for Thursday, September 20, 2007

Defining the position

Lions’ libero perfect fit for unique role

Lawrence High senior Emily Bracciano began playing libero after her sophomore season. Her quickness, intelligence and aggressive play on the court have made her ideal for the position many people call "defensive specialist."

Lawrence High senior Emily Bracciano began playing libero after her sophomore season. Her quickness, intelligence and aggressive play on the court have made her ideal for the position many people call "defensive specialist."

September 20, 2007


Three Questions with ... LHS senior Emily Bracciano

LHS senior Emily Bracciano describes the finer points of her position. Enlarge video

She's one of the shortest players on the floor, and, if not for her steady defense in the Lions' back row, you might not notice her.

But such is life when you play volleyball's wackiest position.

Emily Bracciano is Lawrence High's libero. Although her role as the team's defensive specialist is clearly defined in volleyball circles, it seems completely chaotic to many who watch the games. In and out, in and out whenever she pleases. It's as if Bracciano constantly has something on her mind and can't sit still on the LHS bench.

The position showed up in international play in 1998 and was added to the college game in 2002. Shortly thereafter, high schools across the nation joined the trend, and the rules and restrictions of the libero have been under constant change ever since.

By rule, a team's libero must wear a different-colored jersey than the other five players on the team. The contrasting uniform allows officials to ignore the libero's freedom to take the place of any player in the back row on any dead ball. The substitutions don't count against the team's limit for each game.

The term itself comes from the Italian word for free, and that's exactly the way these specialty players do business.

"It's really nice to go in and out and not have to worry about a rotation," Bracciano said. "Sometimes it feels a little like breaking the rules."

While liberos are free to come and go as they please, they remain heavily regulated in all other aspects of the game. Because they are considered defensive players, rules prohibit them from attacking in the front row or acting as an additional setter. Anything goes in the back row, however, as long as it takes place behind the 10-foot line. And this year, for the first time, liberos are allowed to serve for one player in the rotation.

"I love the position," LHS coach Stephanie Magnuson said. "I think it makes defense more a part of the game, whereas before offenses dominated. Emily's a great libero. She has speed and agility, she's very court smart, she can read a hitter and she's very aggressive."

Most liberos are the shortest players on their teams. Such is the case for Bracciano, who stands just 5-foot-4.

"It's hard to go into volleyball being short," she said with a grin.

But that didn't stop her. After spending most of her career as a setter, Bracciano decided to make the switch to libero after her sophomore season.

"I like to pass and play defense anyway," she said. "And I thought I'd have a better chance to play varsity as a libero so I just went for it."

Known by her teammates as "rocket" for the way she races around the court, Bracciano has earned the respect and admiration of everyone she plays with.

"Emily is everything a libero should be," senior outside hitter Lindsey Murray said. "Without the libero we couldn't have a good set and we couldn't have a good hit. If she's not doing her job, we can't do ours."

Bracciano knows that. She says she feels the pressure at times, especially during crucial moments of a match. But, more times than not, she feeds off that pressure and raises her team's intensity in the process.

"It's always nice to rip a ball but I'd much rather dive for a ball and save it than swing any day," Bracciano said. "I just love having that responsibility and walking away from a match feeling like I did something on the court."

If the memories don't stick, the floor burns and year-round bruises on her legs and knees serve as a reminder.

So far this season the Lions have struggled. The team is just 3-8 but two of those victories came last weekend at the Maize Invitational. Bracciano was sensational defensively at Maize, finishing the five-match weekend with 29 digs and a passer rating of 2.6 out of 3.

Tonight at 5 p.m., LHS has a chance to build on its momentum, as it plays host to its first home varsity quad of the season.


Bassetlover 10 years, 2 months ago

Awesome, awesome picture! Wow!!! That's a classic shot, Nick!

Commenting has been disabled for this item.