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How college volleyball liberos actually work |

How college volleyball liberos actually work

Feb 19 2019

The original idea for this post came about when I was trying to explain the substitutions of Kenzie Maloney, Nebraska's libero in 2017 and 2018. I realized in the middle of the explanation that I didn't understand all the details. I knew that she was usually but not always on the court, and I didn't fully understand why.

I looked for more information on liberos to understand the substitution behavior and wound up learning a lot about the position. I unfortunately couldn't find a single central explanation of all the libero's intricacies. It doesn't help that some rules differ between amateur, collegiate, and professional volleyball.

This post discusses the libero rules for the college game specifically. There's also a specific example of how substitutions (technically replacements) work.

Libero-specific rules

The libero wears a different color uniform than that of her teammates. This is often white, if the team is wearing a colored jersey, or vice versa.

Positional rules

These rules reinforce the concept of the libero. She is a defensive specialist, prevented from being an effective attacker.

Replacement rules

These rules enable the libero to be extremely flexible. She can enter and leave the game essentially infinitely and she can always replace a player in order to serve.

Substitution example

This example comes from the first set of the Nebraska vs. Maryland game, played on 2019/11/24 in Lincoln.

Players used in the following example:

Rotation 1
Sweet Schwarzenbach Sun
Foecke Stivrins Maloney Hames

Before the match even starts, Maloney replaces Stivrins. Stivrins and Schwarzenbach are opposite each other in the rotation so that there is always exactly one middle blocker in the front row.

Rotation 2
Foecke Sweet Schwarzenbach
Maloney Hames Sun

Just a simple rotation here.

Rotation 3
Maloney Stivrins Foecke Sweet
Hames Sun Schwarzenbach Maloney (!)

Stivrins replaces Maloney, as she must: Maloney is not permitted to rotate into the front, and as she replaced Stivrins, Stivrins must replace her. Immediately, Maloney replaces Schwarzenbach, the other middle blocker rotating into the back row. Maloney is able to do this because she is about to serve. Because she has not served yet, she has not "claimed" a serving rotation — a player may only serve in a single rotation during a set. Now, for the rest of the set, she can only serve in rotation 3.

Rotation 4
Hames Stivrins Foecke
Sun Maloney Sweet Miller

Miller, a defensive specialist, substitutes for Sweet.

Rotation 5
Sun Hames Stivrins
Maloney Miller Foecke

Another simple rotation.

Rotation 6
Maloney Schwarzenbach Sun Hames
Miller Foecke Stivrins

Schwarzenbach replaces Maloney, as she must: again, Maloney can not rotate into the front row, and only Schwarzenbach can replace her. Maloney cannot immediately replace Stivrins, because she has already served in rotation 3 and cannot serve in multiple rotations. This is the only rotation without a libero on the court.

In this particular game, Stivrins served in the sixth rotation. In some games, a serving specialist like Hayley Densberger will substitute for Stivrins in this rotation.

Rotation 1*
Miller Sweet Schwarzenbach Sun
Foecke Stivrins Maloney Hames

This is identical to the 1st rotation, though because it is not the start of the match, Sweet must use a substitution to enter the game in Miller's place. Maloney replaces Stivrins in the back row as she did at the start of the match.


While it didn't answer my technical questions about how liberos worked, particularly for substitutions, this NCAA article helped me explain the basic rules above.

The official NCAA rules PDF was more helpful for the nitty-gritty details, though it required jumping around the document a little to better understanding the normal serving and substitution rules.

I rewatched the Nebraska-Maryland volleyball match on BTN2Go to check the lineup for each rotation. I think you need a cable package to watch the game.

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