Friday, December 13, 2013

NCAA | Jenna Orlandini takes her role as UW’s libero seriously (Terry Wood)

More from the Seattle Times’ reporter covering the Los Angeles Regional
  • #3 Washington vs. #14 Kansas | December 13 | 5PM | Galen Center (USC) | ESPN3

Our colleague, Terry Wood, is in Los Angeles this week to provide coverage of the NCAA’s Los Angeles Regional. While interviewing Washington’s senior libero Jenna Orlandini, he asked her about her nickname, “Jo”:
My actual name is Genevieve, but I go by Jenna. In my freshman year he had me, Jenna Hagglund and Jenni Nogueras on the team. It could get confusing. When we write our names on the white board (where McLaughlin compiles performance stats during practice) we write our initials. Mine are JO, and one day Jim said, “We’re going to call Jenna Jo from now on.” It was just easier, and that took out the confusion of having two Jennas. I’m OK with it.

Washington libero Jenna Orlandini (dark jersey) digs a ball to setter Katy Beals (7)
-photo by Shutter Geeks Photography

You can find Terry’s feature about Orlandini in today’s Seattle Times. Some of the article was trimmed for space limitations; here is the full text of Terry’s report:

Jenna Orlandini takes her role as UW’s libero seriously
Coach Jim McLaughlin has watched Orlandini progressively elevate her skills, and this year she earned an all-Pac-12 honorable mention.

Special to The Seattle Times

LOS ANGELES -- When your title is libero, you get a lot of requests for a job description.

“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, then 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 defense-minded role occupied by two previous four-year starters, Candace Lee (2002-05) and Tamari Miyashiro (2006-10), who both became second-team All-Americans.

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. The latter makes her eligible for All-American consideration.

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.”

In the past 12 years, three UW volleyball players have handled the libero position (back-row defensive specialist) for four seasons each. They are UW’s career leaders in digs:
Tamari Miyashiro (2006-09)
Candace Lee (2002-05)
Jenna Orlandini (2010-13)

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. 

Yet she cites handling incoming serves from opponents (known as serve-receive) and delivering clean passes to a setter as a vital libero skill.

“It starts with a pass,” Orlandini said. “You can’t run your offense without a good pass. If I could take every single pass, I would.”

A good pass winds up a few feet short of the net and gives a setter many options for teeing up hitters. A poor pass limits a setter’s choices, sends an offense “out of system” and makes attacks predictable and easier to defend.

“Good servers on other teams can get their serves on certain targets, and typically you don’t want to serve the libero on any team,” she said. “But everyone on our team has really good serves (UW ranks fifth nationally in aces per set), so we go against really good serves every day in practice. Seeing tough serves in a game isn’t new to us.”

Under McLaughlin Orlandini, 22, has learned that being a great libero includes speaking up.

“It’s about bringing more to the team than just passing and digging and ball control,” she said. “You’ve got to talk, sort out traffic, make sure people are on their assignments. You’ve got to be loud.

“I’m typically in the back row, so I have the best vision of a play can help the front row understand what’s going on behind them. It helps the vibe of the team when you have a good libero who can be loud and get confusion out.”

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 smoothes 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 Final Four at Key Arena next week. Two wins at USC this weekend will put UW in its first Final Four since 2006.

“We’ve got to keep getting better, keep fighting, treat every point like it’s got a life of its own,” Orlandini said. “It’s just staying on task, and we’ve been doing a good job of that in practice. The last team standing is the team that’s still improving.”

  • In career sets played at UW, through last week Orlandini ranks third with 439, behind Courtney Thompson (450) and Miyashiro (447).
  • What’s with the different jersey color for liberos? A libero is free to come on and off the court without counting against a team’s substitution limit of 12 subs per set. (“Libero” is Italian for free.) The alternate jersey color helps officials track a libero’s movements. Orlandini notes that when she replaces a player, usually a middle blocker, she must be replaced on the floor by that same player. 
  • Kansas features 6-foot-2 senior middle blocker Caroline Jarmoc, a second-team All-American last year (the same recognition received by UW outside hitter Krista Vansant) and the Big 12 setter of the year, Erin McNorton. 
  • The Jayhawks lost twice to top-seeded Texas during the regular season but defeated Arizona, a team that took a set from the Huskies on their home court in October. Before UW reached the Final Four in 2004, Kansas pushed the Huskies to a fifth set in Seattle in a second-round tournament match before falling. 
  • “They’re good in a lot of positions,” McLaughlin said of Kansas on Thursday. “They can move the ball around. But when you take all this (scouting) information, it’s still 90 percent about your team. The most important thing is how we control the ball.”

See also:

Photos courtesy Shutter Geeks Photography

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