LOS ANGELES — When your title is libero, you get a lot of requests for a job description for the defensive-minded role.
“I start by saying I’m the one who wears the other-colored jersey,” said senior Jenna Orlandini, who will be wearing a dark top amid white-clad teammates Friday when the third-seeded Washington volleyball team (28-2) faces No. 14 Kansas (25-7) in an NCAA tournament regional semifinal (5 p.m., ESPN3) at USC’s Galen Center.
“Then I usually say I’m typically the shortest person on the team, and I’m the one who runs around a lot and hits the floor pretty often,” Orlandini said. She laughed a small laugh and added, “That’s not really all I do.”
UW coach Jim McLaughlin concurs. He recruited Orlandini from La Canada, Calif., about 17 miles north of the Galen Center, to step into the role occupied by two previous four-year starters, Candace Lee (2002-05) and Tamari Miyashiro (2006-10), who both became second-team All-Americans.
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McLaughlin has watched Orlandini progressively elevate her skills, and this year she earned an All-Pac-12 honorable mention (one of only two conference liberos acknowledged; the other: USC’s Natalie Hagglund, a two-time first-team All-American) and a spot on the All-Pacific North Region team.
Where has she grown? “Emotionally, competitively, her feel for the game as well expanding her abilities,” McLaughlin said.
“Mechanically, Jo has really matured in terms of learning how to learn and make changes,” he said. “She learned that her emotions and thoughts are a very big part of the learning process, and Jo has learned how to control her thoughts. In terms of energy, she has always tapped out, something every great athlete must learn to do.”
The libero position was introduced in the late 1990s to boost defense and prolong rallies. Keeping plays alive through digs is often considered a libero’s primary role, and Orlandini’s 1,937 career digs rank third all-time at UW and 12th in the Pac-12.
Under McLaughlin Orlandini, 22, has learned that being a great libero includes speaking up.
Orlandini, though, is not a natural shouter. “It did not come easily for me,” she conceded. “When I first got to UW I was very quiet and really nervous. I was young and didn’t know how to act. Jim joked around and said I was a little mouse.
“But after you start doing it, you start saying the right things. When you continue to talk, it becomes who you are and something the team is used to hearing. It really smooths the game out when you can hear someone verbalize what’s happening on the court. I’ve been working on that since I was a freshman and I continue to work on it.”
She hopes to work on it all the way to the national semifinals at Key Arena next week. Two wins at USC this weekend would do it.