It’s not just the sports found in the X Games that are evolving and progressing; even 100-year-old sports like volleyball are still changing.
In the last four years the rules of NCAA volleyball have gone through some dramatic modifications. Major changes include the recent advent of a rally scoring format – where every ball is a point rather than traditional side-out scoring where only the serving team can score – and the invention of the “libero” position.
The libero is a back-row player whose responsibilities include receiving the serve and playing defense. A libero cannot attack the ball in the front row nor set the ball to be attacked in front of the 10-foot line, and until this year were not allowed to serve.
For teams with above-average liberos like seniors Kristen Nelson and Aaron Mansfield – of the UCSB women’s and men’s volleyball teams, respectively – this rule change could make a considerable difference in strategy. It allows for the libero to remain on the court for defense in the rotation when they serve, rather than substituting out for a middle blocker (for whom they are serving) who is traditionally a weak digger. To the casual fan this may not seem like much, but this one rotation can be an additional five digs a match, which can definitely affect the final result of a game.
Generally, a college libero is a solid all-around player who is simply too short to hit against Division 1 blockers. This means that many of their other talents are taken out of the equation by the rules. Besides perhaps a kicker in football or goalies, a libero is one of the most one-dimensional positions in sports, making hours of practice mind-numbing to endure.
However, it is not just the liberos who will prosper from this development; the whole team should benefit as well. The rule states that liberos can, not must, serve. Middle blockers are not likely to be eager to give up this part of their game, which should inspire them to work harder at their serving so as to keep their spot on the service line.
In addition to the libero service rule, two other modifications have been made in 2004 that are aimed at keeping the spectator interested and the game decided by the bump, set and spike contacts rather than other incidentals. This year, when a player inadvertently touches the net while not in the act of playing the ball, it will not be a violation. Additionally, if the ball contacts a player’s hair, it will not count as one of the three contacts as it did in years past.
Just a few little tidbits for you Gaucho fans who can’t get enough volleyball.