Liberos Work Together In Changing Of The Guard

May 22, 2010

For the past eight seasons, the libero position for the Huskies has functioned like a political office. Four years of the Candace Lee administration was followed by Tamari Miyashiro, who campaigned for the spot during a redshirt year in 2005 before spending four years of her own anchoring the defense and breaking Lee's on record for career digs.

Lee and Miyashiro combined for 4,420 digs over an eight-year span and earned five All-America honors between. They are certainly the two best liberos in UW history, helping lead Husky Nation to the NCAAs every season. But in college sports there's a one-term limit, and in 2010 it will be time to appoint a new secretary of defense.

The candidates for the fall include junior Kandiss Anderson, sophomore Kelly Holford, and redshirt freshman Jenna Orlandini. But this is one campaign where those involved really are working on a joint solution, and all three just want what is best for the team.

All three have been working hard during the spring season, knowing one of them, if not all three, will see a major increase in playing time this fall. Holford has seen the most action, playing in 48 sets last year as a serving specialist and collecting 33 digs. Anderson played in five matches as well, but Orlandini is looking forward to her first action after she sat out to preserve a year of eligibility last season with Miyashiro entrenched at the spot.

Still, the three are not getting caught up looking ahead. It has remained business as usual and the goal is making improvements on a daily basis.

'Last year Tama was a big rock for us and left some big shoes to fill but I don't think there's too much pressure,' said Holford. 'I think we're all working really hard every day in practice to get better and I wouldn't say there's urgency, but we know we have to get better.'

Anderson, who made the switch to the back row after an outstanding prep career as a setter, is confident that the group will develop the needed chemistry.

'All three of us know what we have to do so there's no nervousness that we're not going to get it done. It's just that we have to get to in system with the other passers around us and having them know what balls we're going to take and being comfortable with each other,' Anderson said.

Competition is the hallmark of all Husky practices, with detailed stats from practice determining playing time on gameday. Yet Coach McLaughlin also knows that a great team must be closely-knit, and that is one area where the three liberos keep a perfect balance.

'I think all of us know that all three of us want each other to get better,' Orlandini said. 'Everyone on the team wants everyone else to get better. Yeah, obviously we're in competition with each other but I also want to see Kelly and Kandiss be the best players that they can.'The defensive team spirit is fostered by more practice competition, but many times it's the liberos as a unit pitted against such hitters as Kindra Carlson, Becky Perry, and Bianca Rowland, all of whom have earned All-America honors.

'When we play the offense/defense tournament, we take such pride,' Holford says. 'Jim says, `Okay it's offense/defense' and we're like `Yes! Let's go, come on!' We get so into it because it's just us three back there and we're not going to let anything drop.'

'If we're playing a game, we'll say something like we have to beat the hitters before they get six kills against us,' Anderson adds. 'So a lot of the time we're working together. And then when it does come down to numbers, we're all trying our hardest and in the end it comes down to doing your own job. We're close on the court and off the court.'

The biggest change in practice this spring is the simple reduction in numbers for the liberos. The graduation of Miyashiro was followed by Bizzy Williams deciding to forego her senior season to concentrate on her studies, thus making a five-way juggling act much more manageable in terms of practice time. Last season at least one libero would frequently need to rotate in and out, whereas now all three are always active participants.

'We have more time passing, more time digging, we don't have to switch in and out. I think it's helped us get better,' said Anderson.

While Miyashiro will be tough to replace, the Huskies hope to continue benefiting this season from her large set of skills.

'Definitely her mindfulness stands out,' Holford said. 'She came back to one of our practices and told me to do something and it instantly helped. She saw it so quick. Also her presence off the court, she was about always making smart decisions.'

Orlandini appreciated the consistency in Miyashiro's daily approach and its positive overall effect. 'I think the way she approached the game, coming to practice every day the same way she approached coming to a game, you can feed off that.'

Husky fans will become a lot more familiar with Anderson, Holford, and Orlandini this fall, but in order to get a head start, they each talked about a few of their teammate's strengths.

'I think Kandiss' defense puts a lot of pressure on other teams and it kind of frustrates our hitters,' said Orlandini on Anderson. 'They come off and say, `Why'd you have to dig that ball?' Her serve also, she can go short and she can go deep so it puts a lot of pressure on the serve/receive.'

Anderson sees Holford as a team player in every sense. 'Every drill takes as a chance to get better. She's very scrappy on defense and that's a real fire in her game where if she digs a ball it's a spark,' says Anderson. 'She's always looking to get better and she's genuinely happy for people and wants them to improve.'

Orlandini has become more of a vocal presence in directing the defense in practice this spring, exhibiting a natural confidence that stands out to Holford.

'With Jo the biggest thing is her confidence makes you feel so secure when you're passing or in serve/receive, you know she has your back. If we do our serving lines, she has short and I know she's going to take the short,' Holford says. 'Her confidence and her attitude about everything is all business ... we need to get this done, let's win and take pride in our defense.'

This fall will mark another new beginning for the Huskies on defense, but Coach McLaughlin has three viable candidates to choose from, all of whom are working hard behind the scenes to ensure a prosperous fall for the Dawgs.

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