Junior Shannon Crenshaw is certainly not your average college volleyball libero.

It takes just one look at Washington’s new libero to notice that.

Liberos are typically among the shortest members of the team. Crenshaw is 6 feet 2, the tallest libero in UW history, and perhaps in college history.

A libero plays only in the back row, and is a defensive specialist, with a particular emphasis on returning serves. A libero is not allowed to attack above the plane of the net, which is certainly new for Crenshaw, who had always been an outside hitter.

She said it’s funny when starting lineups are announced and she looks across at the opponent’s libero, invariably several inches shorter than her. But while Crenshaw might seem like an odd fit as libero at first glance, it certainly is working.

Crenshaw won the job to replace four-year starter Shayne McPherson, and her steady improvement is one of the reasons the No. 8 Huskies are 13-3 heading into the final home series of the season against Stanford, on Friday and Sunday.

Advertising

“There is no question that you don’t just change jersey colors and go out and play,” UW coach Keegan Cook said of a libero, who wears a different jersey than the rest of the team. “It’s a new position (for Crenshaw), a new role and certainly it’s not lost on us that Shannon has some skin in the game in terms of losing reps on the outside in order to play the libero role.”

Crenshaw grew up in Longwood, Fla., an Orlando suburb. She was a highly sought recruit but had planned to stay in Florida for college. When her club coach suggested Washington, she said, “That’s really funny.”

But Crenshaw made a visit anyway and fell in love with Seattle.

“I really like the outdoors — the hiking is really great here in the summer and it’s really pretty — and on top of that, volleyball is awesome here,” she said. “The coaching staff was super nice and the players that I got to interact with, they seemed like people that I would like, and somewhat similar to myself. The overall culture and the scenery is what drove me.”

Crenshaw started six matches as a freshman and was a regular in the rotation last year, as an outside hitter (92 kills) and at times as a defensive specialist.

“I’ve always loved defense,” Crenshaw said. “I never really saw myself becoming a libero, but I remember one time that I was at a college camp and one of the coaches said, ‘You can be a libero one day.’ I thought that was a weird comment, but OK.”

Advertising

Cook, who has turned outside hitters into liberos before, saw the potential too. Crenshaw said the coach told her, “It probably won’t happen, but keep it on your radar.”

Crenshaw said she would be open to that, and here we are — not that it has always been a smooth transition.

“The first four weeks of the season, it was not easy,” Cook said. “There were a lot of skills that she had to be better at, particularly service return.”

She has improved “massively,” Cook said. “Shannon is a very calming presence so even when teams are crushing balls, she maintains her composure. It’s not a ‘make one play’ type of job. It’s play after play, and serve after serve.”

Crenshaw said she misses hitting, but said she is enjoying focusing on defense.

“We still think of her as an outside (hitter), but who can play libero,” Cook said.

And she is playing it well for the Huskies, who are in second place in the Pac-12, just a couple percentage points behind Washington State (10-2). Two matches between the two teams were canceled last weekend because of COVID-19 issues in the WSU program.

“We think we are just scratching the surface of how good we can be. I am very excited about what this team can do because we are getting the pieces together at the right time,” Crenshaw said.