Despite coming into the season as the favorite to win the Mountain West, the Colorado State volleyball team was unsure of one of the more important positions on the court: libero.
This offseason, the Rams opened up a competition for the libero spot. Multiple defensive specialists competed for the alternate jersey and defensive leadership position in the weeks leading up to the season.
Although the Rams returned a trio of defensive specialists, they added three more in the offseason to double the pool. Through it all, sophomore Amanda Young separated herself from the competition. Even with the number of players competing for one position, Young kept her edge and pushed through.
“I think (knowing our specialists doubled), we just went in and controlled what we could control,” Young said. “Getting better ourselves instead of worrying about everyone else and pushing each other to get better.”
On her path to libero, an offseason surgery to Olivia Nicholson narrowed the competition to just Young and the other defensive specialists on the team. Though narrowed, the competition remained wide open.
Within the competition, coach Tom Hilbert was looking for a player to step up and lead the defensive side of the ball while excelling in service. Young rose to the challenge and took control of the spot, earning an opening match start at libero against Duke. She came into the match knowing she had to play well, but sought to not let any added pressure affect her mindset or flow of play.
“I just played with a lot of freedom,” Young said. “I felt pretty at peace the whole time and I think I was really prepared for (the match) and excited to be the libero.”
Young had a break from the role of libero her freshman year of college after playing the position in high school. She made the re-adjustments and found her comfort zone with preparation and rigor for improvement.
The passion and drive that Young has placed in her volleyball repertoire has allowed her to improve and learn other skills that have placed her at the core of the Rams success. Going into the offseason as a quality player for the Rams, Young worked hard to improve areas of her game that were not up to her lofty standards in hopes of becoming a complete player and driving her team to success.
“I wanted to work on my vision,” Young said. “Now that I am used to playing at a college level, I wanted to get better at seeing the court and making defensive plays while holding my team accountable.”
Young’s leadership is a quality that coach Hilbert looks for in his recruiting process of defensive specialists. Every defensive specialist the Rams have possess a leadership quality and take control for the team.
“All of the (players) that play defense for us are good leadership types,” Hilbert said. “They are all hard workers, all great (people).”
Even though the Rams leadership was not in question, the team was looking to improve defensively coming into the year and raise their defensive prowess to match their star outside and middle hitters.
Even after winning the competition to stand as the Rams libero, Young is pushed by freshman Maddi Foutz. The competition is what pushes Young to continue working and avoid the complacency that can cause a team to plateau.
As well as Foutz, Young finds inspiration in the words and lessons of her libero and defensive coach Emily Hiza Kohan.
“Emily has had a really big impact on me,” Young said. “She has been someone who has always been really relatable to me and she uses a lot of tough love when she coaches and you know that she is always going to want what is best for you and pushes you.”
Through the Rams 5-1 start, Young has led the team in digs (96) and in digs per set (4.17). Young’s proficiency in digs mixed with the blocking prowess of Kirstie Hillyer have been catalysts for the Rams success.
The Rams are aware of the hype surrounding the team and the increasing expectations for the remainder of the season. With their upset of Florida State, the Rams are becoming a household name, moving into the top 25. Regardless of the added notoriety, the team’s goals have remained the same.
“Our team has so much potential,” Young said. “We have known for a while that this was going to be a really big year, and I think you can kind of lose sight of that once it finally comes. We just have to keep our goals in mind and take it one step at a time. I just want to get better every day.”
With a step by step approach, the Rams are looking to focus on one game at a time and move past their upset of the Seminoles. Rather than focus on past success, the Rams are looking at another Mountain West title and beyond.
The Rams have only four seniors and could be looking at a long road of success with their core of Breana Runnels, Katie Oleksak and Hillyer, all pushed by the leadership of their libero.
Collegian sports reporter Luke Zahlmann can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lukezahlmann.