Coming into the new season, sophomore Mia Heirakuji knew she had big shoes to fill, replacing now graduated Alyssa Drachslin as the team’s starting libero.
“I think the way [Drachslin] took control of the back row last year,” Heirakuji said. “That really showed me the kind of libero I need to be, keeping constant communication is key.”
But added onto that, Heirakuji found out she would be learning a new system, where she would be the only libero on the roster.
“It’s actually kind of tough sometimes, especially when we do hitting drills in practice I have to be the only passer sometimes,” Heirakuji said. “It’s a lot to just to be in this position, but I feel honored that [the coaches] have enough confidence in me, and it makes me hold myself accountable, being the only libero.”
In this new system, Temple has the opportunity to have five potential attackers on the court at once by playing outside hitters in the back row.
Coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam made the change because he had enough confidence in his outside hitters being able to play the same level of defense as a libero in the back row.
“When you have hitters like [junior outside hitter Izzy Rapacz] who play well in the back row, we don’t lose anything defensively while adding more threats,” Ganesharatnam said.
This transition has impacted Heirakuji and Rapacz the most. Heirakuji only rotates out for one play before coming back in, and Rapacz plays the entire match.
Since the change, Rapacz has led the Owls through four games with 58 kills and 22 blocks, and is second on the team with 38 digs.
The Owls have spent all summer on the transition. They started practice in June to grasp the new concepts before the beginning of the season.
“It’s been very different this year for us,” said senior outside hitter Caroline Grattan. “Summer helped out a lot, we got to practice and see how we all play together.”
Because of the new system’s focus on attacking, the team is confident in its ability to play with a quick pace.
“We have a faster offense, and overall the way we play is just quicker this season,” Heirakuji said. “I think this season we’re going to play at a higher level, and compete with some really good teams.”
One of the byproducts of the new system is an increase in errors. Through four games this season, the team has made 93 errors, compared to 59 last season.
“Errors are going to happen, they are a big part of the game of volleyball, and everyone makes mistakes so errors are going to happen,” Ganesharatnam said. “It’s about how we react to those mistakes and I think the way we are going to play, by being aggressive in the front and back row, is going to help us.”
Kevin Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.