For her entire life, Temple University volleyball freshman Falanika Danielson was an outside hitter.
But at 5 feet, 5 inches tall, she wouldn’t be tall enough to play the position alongside her 6-foot-plus teammates at Temple. This season, she switched to play libero, a defensive position focused on ball control and playing close to the ground rather than at net level.
After the switch, Danielson made history this season, earning The American Athletic Conference’s 2020-21 Libero of the Year award on April 5. She is the first freshman in conference history to win any major award.
“I was honestly excited to try it,” Danielson said. “I love defense. Like, that’s my favorite overall, and I’m starting to love this position more than playing outside.”
Whereas outsider hitters are responsible for jumping high in the air to spike the ball and blocking the opposing team’s spike attempts, liberos occupy the middle and backcourt, functioning as defensive specialists.
In 62 sets this season, Danielson recorded 327 digs, 5.27 digs per set and 21 service aces — all team-high scores.
She had 16 digs, three service aces and three points in Temple’s AAC tournament championship loss against the University of Central Florida on April 3. It was the first time in program history Temple competed in the tournament.
Danielson was the No. 3 recruit coming from her hometown of Ewa Beach, Hawaii. In high school, she was named the Oahu Interscholastic Association Player of the Year for the West Region, earned a spot on the All-Tournament team and led her team to the OIA West and OIA Championships, where they finished fourth in the state.
“She was a very elite player over there,” said head coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam. “We knew she’s gonna fill in the libero position fast and from the get go.”
Danielson joined Temple’s team in August 2020 and immediately impressed her teammates at the libero position, said junior setter Tyler Lindgren.
“As a libero, it’s very rare for them to be a hitter before, so I think that gives her a really good perspective of another position and allows her to see things that maybe a normal libero wouldn’t see,” Lindgren added. “It contributes to her vision on the court but also her overall ball control.”
It took Danielson time to get used to being the captain of the back row instead of leading the offense from the front, she said.
“I definitely thought I made a lot of progress quickly, but then at the same time it’s also because I was really excited about it and I was open to learning the position,” Danielson said. “Just those constant reps with my coaches and them just being there for me all the time, that really helped.”
Temple finished with an 11-6 record this season, the first time since 2017 the team had a winning season.
Although Danielson was one of the most productive and successful players on the team this season, she knows her starting position isn’t guaranteed next year, she said.
“There’s other girls that we have now that are in my position, so they can always come in, it just depends on who’s producing more points and who’s a better benefit to the team,” Danielson said. “Right now, I guess it’s me, so definitely in the next few years, I’m not really sure, but I’m definitely going to stay as a libero.”