Liberos often get overlooked. While volleyball fans have their eyes on the net, watching towering hitters score points and put up intimidating blocks, they might miss the contributions of the back row leaders.
The tide does seem to be turning in liberos’ favor, however. Plenty of buzz has surrounded elite NCAA liberos like Stanford’s Morgan Hentz, Penn State’s Kendall White, and Oregon’s Brooke Nuneviller, and four liberos were named to this year’s AVCA/Under Armour First Team All-America list, doubling last year’s libero total of two.
Ahead of the 2018 Under Armour All-America Match, which will stream live right here on FloVolleyball, get to know these four defensive-minded super athletes and make sure next time you turn on a volleyball match, you take the time to appreciate the feats of strength, speed, and skill happening behind the 10-foot line.
5-8 | Mesa, Arizona | Skyline High School | University of Arizona
Kamaile Hiapo is the daughter of two volleyball coaches and the youngest of five siblings, all of whom played collegiate volleyball.
Hiapo contributed on both sides of the ball for Skyline High School this season, playing six-rotations as an outside hitter and leading the team in kills (847) and digs (511). She led the team to a 23-17 season and a spot in the state championship where Skyline had the misfortune of matching up against eventual champions Xavier College Prep in the first round. Although Xavier earned the sweep, Hiapo led all players with 15 kills and 15 digs.
Last week, she signed a National Letter of Intent to stay local and play for the University of Arizona.
Our next NLI is in!— Arizona Volleyball (@ArizonaVBall) November 14, 2018
5-7 • Libero • Mesa, Ariz. (Skyline H.S.)
Another top-100 recruit for the Cats! pic.twitter.com/a5RlHHglej
“Kamaile is 5-6 or 5-7, but when you watch her play, you don't ask how tall she is because she does so much despite her size,” Arizona head coach Dave Rubio said. “She's going to come here and be a libero, but she's always been the do-everything, six-rotation outside hitter ... she passes, she serves, she sets, she attacks, she just plays the game, and plays it at a very high level. Kamaile is the best prospect coming out of high school at this position that anyone on our staff has ever recruited in terms of her skill level from her platform, her overhand skills, her serve/receive, digging attackers and seeing/reading the game.”
According to an article in the East Valley Tribune, Hiapo is the first libero in 27 years to receive a full volleyball scholarship at Arizona.
5-7 | Yorktown, Indiana | Yorktown High School | University of Nebraska
Another outside hitter who will be transitioning to the libero position in college, Kenzie Knuckles played a pivotal role for her Indiana-state-championship-winning Yorktown High School team this fall, leading in both kills and aces.
In Knuckles’ three years playing on the varsity team at Yorktown, her team lost just six matches, and this season, the Tigers went undefeated on their way to the Indiana state title. PrepVolleyball named Knuckles the National Sophomore of the Year in 2016 and she made the top Munciana 18s team when she was only 15.
Welcome to the #Huskers, Kenzie Knuckles! Kenzie is an Under Armour First-Team All-American and 1 of 10 high school seniors on the MaxPreps Player of the Year Watch List! She led Yorktown (Ind.) to a 34-0 record and a state championship this season! #GBR pic.twitter.com/KRxLUxbbCD— Husker Volleyball (@Huskervball) November 14, 2018
Knuckles will graduate from Yorktown in December (with academic honors, no less) and join the Nebraska squad in January. With current starting Nebraska libero Kenzie Maloney graduating later this year, look to see Knuckles take over Maloney’s spot in the Husker lineup.
“We believe we’re getting one of the most talented players in the country in Kenzie, and can’t wait to get her in a Nebraska jersey,” Nebraska head coach John Cook said. “She is a ball-control machine who has the potential to be on the court right away.”
5-6 | The Woodlands, Texas | The Woodlands High School | University of Oregon
For Georgia Murphy, the libero position has been her calling since eighth grade. The Texas native ranks as the top libero in the Class of 2019, according to PrepVolleyball and the No. 27 recruit overall.
This fall, she led The Woodlands to an undefeated season in district play and earned district MVP honors. The Highlanders then advanced all the way to the Regional Semifinals of the Texas 6A state tournament. In her high school career, Murphy tallied more than 2,000 digs.
Welcome libero Georgia Murphy to the Duck family!— Oregon Volleyball (@OregonVB) November 14, 2018
Oregon's third top-30 recruit at No. 27 on the Senior Aces list, Murphy joins the Ducks out of The Woodlands, Texas.@PrepVolleyball: "The way she controls her team’s backrow is a thing of beauty." #GoDucks pic.twitter.com/qrCmJL59xD
“Georgia has been the best libero in this class since eighth grade,” Oregon head coach Matt Ulmer said. “She makes the game look so easy and uncomplicated. She is always around the ball and is going to be a headache for our opponents. Georgia always has her teammates’ and coaches’ full trust and confidence.”
Like Knuckles, Murphy will graduate early from high school and start college in January. Competition for the starting libero position will be fierce in Eugene come 2019, as Oregon’s roster already features freshman Brooke Nuneviller, who leads the Pac-12 in digs per set.
5-8 | Roswell, Georgia | Blessed Trinity Catholic | University of Wisconsin
Anna MacDonald holds the Georgia state high school record for career digs with 3,297. In her four years playing for Blessed Trinity Catholic, MacDonald won two state championships and earned all-state honors every year -- one of just two freshmen honored in 2015. As a senior, she collected 943 digs and was named 4A Georgia State Player of the Year.
In committing to Wisconsin, MacDonald follows in the footsteps of her older sister Amber, who played for Wisconsin from 2015 to 2017, serving as team captain in 2017 before choosing to medically retire ahead of the 2018 season due to a chronic wrist injury.
𝐌𝐞𝐞𝐭 𝐀𝐧𝐧𝐚 𝐌𝐚𝐜𝐃𝐨𝐧𝐚𝐥𝐝— Wisconsin Volleyball (@BadgerVB) November 14, 2018
- A 2018 AVCA Under Armour first-team All-American
- Set the Georgia record for career digs with 3,297 while adding 366 career service aces
- Aided her HS to 2 state championships, 4 all-state honors#NationalSigningDay || @annamacdonald38 pic.twitter.com/ALIEUOMMVh
“Anna is a fierce competitor and a winner,” Wisconsin head coach Kelly Sheffield said. “She won't back down or flinch playing at this level. She takes it personally if an attacker scores in her area of the court. Being around the program and watching her sister go through it for the past four years, she knows what it's about. Anna's another player that has played at a high level for a number of years coming in.”
See these four super liberos in action at the 2018 Under Armour All-America Match, which will stream live right here on FloVolleyball, Friday, December 14, at 8 PM CT.