The Libero/Defensive Specialist label is interchangeable for recruiting. For on court designation, the Libero plays every rotation in the back row, while the Defensive Specialist plays 3 back row rotations for a select front row player. In general, college coaches recruit back row players, and the best of these back row players will obtain the Libero position. Do not limit yourself with the label of Defensive Specialist, because this can give the impression that you only have the ability to play 3 rotations – Better to promote yourself as a Libero, and compete for this position in college.
The Libero position tends to be the last position recruited by college volleyball coaches. The rationale being that there is an abundance of talented back row players, and a quality Libero can be obtained later in the recruiting process. College coaches focus their early recruiting attention on the attackers.
This results in Libero families needing to be patiently aggressive in the recruiting process – They must continually reach out to college programs, must contact college coaches multiple times because the recruiting landscape is always changing, must be patient with their communication efforts, and must stay focused on the longer timetable which is incumbent to the Libero position and recruiting.
Many programs will offer walk on positions with the promise of a scholarship in a future year(s). This walk on to scholarship has become an established protocol because it allows coaches the opportunity to have many talented back row players on the roster, who are all competing for the scholarship later in their collegiate career.
In terms of characteristics, some collegiate programs like taller Liberos because of the arm reach, while other collegiate programs prefer short Liberos because of foot speed. But, the most important characteristic of a Libero is passing ability. Liberos must be able to pass well to succeed; defense is a secondary concern of the college coaches because the entire offense is dependent upon the first pass.
The elite college volleyball Liberos (NCAA Division I and upper DII) tend to have many years of national level club volleyball, while the lower level college volleyball Liberos (NCAA DIII and JC) can achieve a roster position with little or no club volleyball experience.
The Middle Blocker position may be the earliest recruited position and this early recruiting timetable is driven by height. Tall Middle Blockers (6’3” and above) are actively recruited beginning their freshman year of high school, and scouted while in Junior High. Many families of tall middle blockers, are not prepared for this early and very aggressive recruiting effort by collegiate coaches.
As noted above, Middle Blocker recruiting is driven by height; the taller the player, the more elite level collegiate programs will be recruiting (and this includes the height played above the net; the better the vertical jump the more attractive a middle blocker recruit). And because of the early recruiting trend, understand that other players who are not at talented as you, may be getting recruited just because they are 2 inches taller.
As you move through the recruiting process, match your physical statue with appropriate collegiate programs. You may want to play in the Big 10, but if you are only a 6’0” middle blocker, you are not going to play in the Big 10. Better to find non power conference program which will value your contributions.
Many families will question whether it is better to have their daughter switch positions, so she can be a ‘taller’ player as an Outside Hitter or Right Side Hitter. This can be a risky transition, because tall does not equal talent. It is better to be a talented ‘shorter’ middle blocker, than a marginal ‘average’ height right side hitter. In general, players should play the position they enjoy the most and have the best skill sets, and then adjust their collegiate outreach to match their stature.
The Outside Hitter is the most important player in the college volleyball recruiting process. Rally score volleyball success is determined by the talents of this position’s ability to pass and successfully attack – When you see a winning college volleyball team, they will have two very talented outside hitters.
With the elite level programs (NCAA DI and upper DII), height plays a large part in the recruiting process. The taller the recruit, the more elite level opportunities will be available.
The Outside Hitter position must have the ability to be a 6 rotation player; to play all 6 rotations while passing, attacking, blocking, defending and serving. While height is a factor, a player’s overall ability is important when college coaches are evaluating recruits.
The tall and talented players will get scouted in Junior High and actively recruited immediately. College coaches understand that an impact Outside Hitter is critical to winning seasons. Families of these type of players (6’2”+ with all around skills) must be prepared to manage the recruiting process much earlier than anticipated.
A large number of outside hitter recruits will fall into the 5’9” to 6’0” height range; this is the great middle ground of OH recruiting. Some college coaches are still smitten by height at the expense of other skills, while other collegiate programs are focused on all around ability. This chasm of college coach preferences can make the recruiting process a stressful situation for families.
Because player cannot control height but can improve skills, focus on making yourself the best possible outside hitter. Then promote and market yourself to a wide variety of collegiate programs that fit your various preferences. Understand the more collegiate programs you contact, and re-contact, the more choices you will have.
Right Side Hitter:
The Right Side Hitter position has grown in importance these last few years. This is a result of many collegiate programs using a 2 setter offense, in which the setters are replaced by Right Side Hitters in the front row. So, instead of one right side hitter playing, two will now enjoy court time and this doubles the need for right side recruiting.
Like the Middle position, Right Side Hitter recruiting will be preferenced towards the taller players – The taller the player, the more elite the potential collegiate playing level.
The Right Side position will be focused on blocking (because they will match up against the opponent’s outside attacker), with attacking being important but often secondary. Because of this focus, the right side position tends to be taller than the outside hitters, but not have the ball control of the outsides.
In general, this position can be a catch all position – Taller hitters who do not have the passing and ball control needed to play the Outside Hitter Position, or Middle Blockers who were thought too small and moved to the right.
The exception to this statement, are the left handed outside hitters which are extremely attractive to collegiate coaches. Because of the geometry of volleyball, the left handed right side hitter is the equivalent of the right handed left side attacker. A tall, rightside hitter with passing and ball control, will be an early recruited player.
The setting position may be the most challenging when it comes to the collegiate recruiting process and families trying to manage this process. Coaches will have their own preference when it comes to this position, which is borne of the offensive system which the collegiate program employs. In addition, the leadership and communication skills of the setting position are critical to team success.
With regards to elite level volleyball, the setter position does not break down into height parameters as easily as the attacking positions. Some coaches prefer taller setters for the blocking benefit; some prefer shorter setters for their agility to chase down bad passes. Many schools have shifted into the 2 setter offense, where the setters are replaced front row by Right Side attackers. Collegiate coaches can prefer the loud, aggressive setter while others like their setters to be quietly in control. You will see ‘shorter’ setters with power conference programs as easily as you will see 'taller' setters with lower level collegiate teams.
Outside of collegiate coaches’ height/system preferences, all college coaches expect two things from their setters – 1) Deliver a hittable set to the attackers, and 2) Set the correct attacker. As a setter, always stay focused on improving these two areas of your ability.
Families must reach out to a wide variety of college programs (and reach out multiple times) as they manage the recruiting process. Similar to the Liberos, college coaches can recruit talented setters very late in the process and they may also employ a walk on to scholarship scenario.