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The Standard

The High School Student News Site of The American School in London

The Standard

Life as a Libero


Middle Hitter Momo Steele (’16) leapt and spiked the ball to win varsity girls volleyball ISSTs last season sending the crowd into euphoria. While the play culminated with Steele’s spike above the net, it certainly didn’t start there. That play, as do most for the varsity girls volleyball team started with Libero Emily Barlow (’18).

Barlow started playing volleyball in California, one of the world’s most competitive volleyball hotbeds. She discovered the game at the age of 10, while most of her teammates had already known the game for years. Barlow’s frame left most coaches unsure where to position her.

That was until her middle school volleyball coach and teacher Kate Ward showed her the Libero position, a match made in heaven for Barlow’s “personality” and size. “I immediately knew she would be a great Libero because she is really tough,” Ward said.

Relentlessness, which is an inherent quality in any solid Libero, was what Barlow possessed at the outset of her volleyball career. “She just kept going. If she missed it she would get the next one. She was just fearless,” Ward said.

The Libero is the Designated Hitter of volleyball: A player solely operating in the defensive back row that is not permitted to serve and rarely hits given their position away from the net. To differentiate the libero from their teammates, they sport different colored jerseys.

Like most sports passing proves critical to a successful team and, ideally, the Libero orchestrates the passing. A large part of Barlow’s responsibilities include managing her backcourt teamates, including Outside Hitter Marianne De Ridder (’18). “She calls the shots back there. If I am in the backcourt with her I know she’s going to get the ball if she says she’s going to. I have complete faith in her,” De Ridder said.

Volleyball is a game played above the net, a space Barlow seldom occupies. Based on her position, that fact doesn’t serve as an obstacle, though it impacts her play in other areas. “It’s not really the height, it’s more the power. How much power you produce. How much you use your legs and how much your arms. When I set, I jump. I have to put my whole body in it, whereas someone else could just use the upper half of their body,” Barlow said.

Most volleyball plays culminate with impressive hits, one of the few things on the volleyball court Barlow cannot do. She finds this in part contributes to the unforgiving nature of the Libero position that allows little room for error and equally, acclaim. “I set up the rest of the point, if I don’t pass it to the setter perfectly, the setter can’t set and the hitter can’t hit,” Barlow said. “I feel like I don’t get as much recognition as say Maya [Matejcek (’17)] does because what people see in the game is Maya hitting the ball down.”

However, Barlow isn’t just a Libero; she’s an exceptional one with numerous talents, among them being one of the fastest on the team and above all stability in almost every fundamental skill in the game. “She’s one of the most consistent players on our team,” De Ridder said.

At the height of her abilities Varsity Girls Assistant Volleyball Coach Lisi Arrarte identifies Barlow as “pretty flawless in terms of her passing.”

Beyond the praise of teammates and coaches, Barlow owns the accomplishments, including winning the girls volleyball London Youth Games with her club team as well as a varsity  girls volleyball Divison 1 ISSTs gold medal. Barlow also served as the only Libero from last year’s All-Tournament ISST team and repeated the feat this fall, cementing her status as the best Libero in Division 1.

In the U.S. Barlow’s height would be a quality that leads many coaches to dismiss her abilities. “I’m a vital part of the team, even if I could have been there the coach would have never acknowledged me as that. Here I know I am,” Barlow said. “That’s why I love playing volleyball here because I’ve been given an opportunity I wouldn’t be given otherwise.”

Beyond her volleyball skills, De Ridder feels Barlow’s leadership is her strongest asset. “All the six players on the court are important to support eachother, but she, especially, is what I need on the court.”

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