Volleyball: Position By Position

PATRIOTLEAGUEDOTORG Army junior outside hitter Elizabeth Lazzari
Army junior outside hitter Elizabeth Lazzari

Nov. 8, 2007

While the functions of each position in some sports are very apparent, volleyball is a sport where some explanation may be needed. In baseball everyone knows what the pitcher is supposed to do and in soccer the function of the goalie is clear, but what is a libero in volleyball and what exactly is she doing on the court.

Below eight Patriot League student-athletes explain the following volleyball positions - outside hitter, middle blocker, setter and libero/defensive specialist.

Outside Hitter

American junior Rubena Sukaj

What are the functions of an outside hitter? What is expected from your position?

An outside hitter should be a good passer, because she is passing in most of the rotations with the libero. The outside hitter is also expected to get most of the sets if there isn't a good pass. In case of a bad pass, or a bad set, the hitter should make the decision to take a good swing at the ball, or just make a good steady shot to keep the ball in play, and give her team an opportunity to defend it.

What skills/natural abilities must an athlete possess to be effective at the outside hitter position?

In order to be an effective outside hitter, you should be powerful and hit the ball hard, energetic, fast and smart so you can see the open spots on the court. In volleyball you don't run long distances, so the ability to be fast in short distances is very important. An outside hitter needs to be a good jumper in order to penetrate the block of the other team.

Why do you play the position of outside hitter?

I play the outside hitter position because I can hit the ball pretty hard. I can pass the ball and am able to make good shots and recognize my opportunities. I am on effective hitter from the back row too. I like this position because it gives me the opportunity to show my hitting abilities from the front and back row. I used to be a middle, but with the Recht sisters coming to American, I am now too short. My coaches wouldn't let me be the setter, and I am too tall to be a libero. So the coaches decided that I should be an outside.

Army junior Elizabeth Lazzari

What are the functions of an outside hitter? What is expected from your position?

An outside hitter is expected to be a go-to hitter and a solid defensive player. You have to be able to hit, block, serve, and pass. Outside hitters are expected to have the best ball control on the team. Often times, outside hitters get set off of bad passes so they are expected to be able to do something with the ball even when it is not a perfect set. They should be your most "all-around" type player.

What skills/natural abilities must an athlete possess to be effective at the outside hitter position?

To be an effective outside hitter, an athlete must be quick, smart, and have great endurance. They must be able to remain mentally and emotionally stable. Pressure situations should be desired not avoided.

Why do you play the position of outside hitter?

I play outside because I love to hit and I love to pass and play defense. It is the position where you really get to do it all. I also like being put in pressure situations which happens a lot for outside hitters. I love the game and I feel like I can contribute the most in this position.

Holy Cross senior Christine Strawson

What are the functions of an outside hitter? What is expected from your position?

The outside hitter is a very important offensive position. I play in the front left corner of the court and am responsible for attacking (or spiking) a ball directed to me from the setter. The left side is actually the strong side for a right-handed attacker. A kill is an attack that the other team can't return over the net, so basically one of my goals is to try and get as many kills as possible. You can't always just jump up and try to kill the ball every time, however. An outsider hitter must evaluate the situation and make a play that will be the most successful in each particular case. As a front row player, an outside hitter also has blocking responsibilities. The outsider hitter must block the right-side hitter on the opposing team and also move towards the middle of the court and help her middle hitter block the middle position on the other team as well. If the outside hitter has no blocking responsibilities (i.e. the setter passes the ball to the left side hitter on the other team), then the outside hitter releases off of the net and plays defense within the ten-foot line of the court.

What skills/natural abilities must an athlete possess to be effective at the outside hitter position?

An outside hitter definitely needs to have an explosive vertical jump. It is also very important that the outside hitter is able to see the court while attacking and find positions where there are no people defending. An outside hitter also needs to quickly transition off of the net from previously playing defense and become an offensive threat. The proper hitting technique and footwork is vital in order to have an effective attack, thus scoring a point for your team. The outside hitter must also be able to adjust her hitting approach based on the position of the ball that her setter gives to her. As previously mentioned you can't kill every ball (or slam it to the ground, even though all outside hitters love the sound of a volleyball hitting the gym floor). Sometimes, in certain situations, the most effective shots are the "tips" or the "roll" shots that catch the other team off guard. It is extremely important that an outside hitter be mentally focused during every point of every game.

Why do you play the position of outside hitter?

I initially played the position of outside hitter in high school, primarily because I was one of the taller players, had a decent vertical jump, and had a quick arm swing. When I came to college, I wasn't sure what role or position I would be asked to play. I was very happy, however, when Coach Ridolfi showed confidence in my athletic abilities and allowed me to remain, and further develop, in the outside hitter position. I find that it is one of the most challenging and worthwhile positions in volleyball and I love every second that I'm up there in the front row trying to help my team score points. I've been playing outside hitter for Holy Cross for four years now and I still get a little thrill each time I rotate into the front row and can become an offensive threat for my team.

Lehigh senior middle blocker Shannon Spafford

Middle Blocker

Lehigh senior Shannon Spafford

What are the functions of a middle blocker? What is expected from your position?

A middle blocker is most important in blocking. In other positions they are only responsible for blocking "their" hitter, but middles have to cover the entire net, close the block that is set up by the other blocker, and penetrate the net to prevent a ball from crossing the plane of the net. The expectations of a middle is to run a fast offense. This requires that we transition fast from defense and are ready to hit on every play. We are a decoy on some plays in that we draw the other teams blockers away from the outside and right side to create a "one on one" situation. In general, a middle has to do everything, and do it fast to stay out of the way of the setter.

What skills/natural abilities must an athlete possess to be effective at the middle blocker position?

The skills necessary for a middle are to be quick. On many occasions in a game we will have to run from pin to pin before the ball is hit and in that time we need to close the block, jump and penetrate. Quickness is vital to accomplish this.

Why do you play the position of middle blocker?

When I began playing volleyball I was an outside hitter, and then immediately was moved to a middle and fell in love with it. It is so fast and so involved in every play. I always feel like I am doing something to help the team, and it keeps me staying focused during a game. Most of all, middle is fun for me, although it is hard and the drills are long, it is so fun to play in a game and know that I am making an impact on my team offensively and defensively.

Navy junior Alexa Gibbs

What are the functions of an middle blocker? What is expected from your position?

I've been a middle blocker for 10 years now and during that time I have loved every minute of it. The middle is the leader out on the court. I don't have the luxury of having an "off night", because from that first serve to game point, it's the middle who sets the tone for the entire match. A former coach of mine always said, "Anyone can hit a high ball to the outside, but it takes a whole new kind of crazy to be a powerhouse middle."

What skills/natural abilities must an athlete possess to be effective at the middle blocker position?

The middle blocker is the workhorse of the team. It's a difficult position, and most certainly not one that someone can just step in and play without an enormous amount of practice, discipline, power and brains. We spend hours at practice just the middles and setters working together to get the right height and timing on the sets. Being loud is also key. You have to get inside the other team's head by calling out their hitters, and what plays you think they will run. At the end of the night, the opposing team should be tired of hearing the middle's voice. Blocking is also important. When you shut down the other team's offense, it's a great thing.

Why do you play the position of middle blocker?

Since I started playing volleyball, I've only been a middle, and I love it! Having hit occasionally from both the outside and right-side positions, I think that middle is the most fun! Everyone has a job to do on the court, mine is to find the ball and hit it as hard as I can, as fast as I can, as many times as I can (without getting blocked of course). That's the job I look forward to every time I step out onto the court.


Bucknell junior Shannon Pitsch

What are the functions of a setter? What is expected from your position?

The setter handles every second ball enabling the connection between the defense and the offense. She must coordinate the offense by analyzing the other team's weaknesses and her own team's strengths, to determine effective plays and strategies for success in each situation. Ultimately a setter is expected to constantly analyze the game and act to maximize the potential of her hitters to win the match.

What skills/natural abilities must an athlete possess to be effective at the setter position?

The most important skill the setting position requires is the set itself. A good setter has relaxed hands that can consistently distribute the ball. Physically she must have quick reaction timing and the athleticism necessary to handle the requirements of a match. Mentally a setter must be the most level headed person on the team combined with a determination to strive for perfection and the intelligence to analyze every moment of the match.

Why do you play the position of setter?

Since I was in sixth grade and began playing volleyball for my middle school, I have always been the setter of my teams. I love this position because it affords me the opportunity to control the offense and maximize the capabilities of my team. And at the end of the day the emotional response I get when one of my hitters gets an amazing kill is enough to keep me coming back for more.

Libero/Defensive Specialist

Colgate junior Jackie Adlam

What are the functions of a libero? What is expected from your position?

The Libero is a purely defensive player, who is, unlike other defensive specialists, allowed to play for both middle blockers. Libero in Italian literally means "free", and this position is called Libero because you can run in and out without the ref calling a sub. This allows for more team substitutions to go on during the game. The Libero can serve for only one of the middles, and when the other is serving, is when the Libero must step off the court. To be easily identifiable by the refs, the Libero wears a different jersey, usually in the opposite colors from the rest of the team. As a Libero you are expected to lead the defense for the team. It is expected that you will touch most of the balls on defense and therefore, are a large part of the action.

What skills/natural abilities must an athlete possess to be effective at the libero position?

In order to be a good Libero, I believe that court sense is needed, as well as the ability to read and react to the game. You must be vocal in order to lead the defense. It is helpful if you are quick and also have fast instincts, as often times the ball comes very quickly. Most importantly though, is the ability to adjust to the hitters' tendencies during a play.

Why do you play the position of libero?

I have always been a very defensive player, and when the position was created about five years ago, I started playing it, for a multitude of reasons. For one, I was much shorter than the rest of the people on my team, and thankfully, this is one of the only positions that doesn't require tremendous height at the higher levels. I started when I was 16 and from that moment on, I have never been put anywhere else. It is a high intensity position where a lot of action is seen, and the rush I get from digging a hard-hit ball is unbelievable.

Lafayette senior defensive specialist/libero Karla Barbiche

Lafayette senior Karla Barbiche

What are the functions of a defensive specialist? What is expected from your position?

As defensive specialist, my job is to bring a strong defensive presence to the court and to control the back row. In the back row, we have the best view of everything that happens on the court, which gives us the insight necessary to talk to the front row players and tell them what's open and where to hit. We are expected to be constantly communicating with the hitters as well as to always be moving in order to effectively protect the court defensively.

What skills/natural abilities must an athlete possess to be effective at the defensive specialist position?

In order to be an effective defensive specialist, an athlete must have the ability to move low and quickly. One must also be able to read the hitters and blockers and react quickly to the game. An effective defensive specialist must also be consistent and have good ball control, for we are the ones in control of the beginning of each point.

Why do you play the position of defensive specialist?

I play defensive specialist in part because I'm not tall enough to play front row, but mostly because I love being an initial part of the play, setting the pace of the game. It's true that the back row players don't get the recognition that the hitters do, but the feeling of digging up the other teams hits is one I wouldn't trade.