One who has just started following volleyball might wonder why one out of six players wears a contrasting jersey color from their teammates. This player is not allowed to attack, block or serve – prompting her to skip the aerial battle and instead provide a solid floor defense.
Introduced about two decades ago, the libero position was added to indoor volleyball to solidify every team’s floor defense counteracting heavy serves and delivering life-saving digs to keep every ball alive.
And in this period of Philippine volleyball renaissance, we can’t help but recognize the five most experienced and outstanding liberos we have in the game today.
5. Jen Reyes
Current team: Foton Tornadoes (PSL)
Perhaps the main highlight of this former Lady Bulldog’s career was when she received the fourth golden ticket, suiting up for PSL Manila, the country and host’s team in the last year’s edition of FIVB’s Club World Championship. She is the only Filipina libero who has played on the world stage, and was one of the lucky few to battle it out against the world’s best club teams.
True enough, Jen Reyes has a reputation for possessing the fastest reflexes among her contemporaries, popping up at every hard crosscourt spike. She is also known for her chases, dives and saves. She is not called “Ms. Dig Everything” for nothing, as her agility already rewarded her two UAAP Best Digger awards and a Best Receiver plum. Additionally, she has already been hailed the Best Libero in the Filipino professional leagues for at least three times.
4. Lizlee Annliz Gata-Pantone
Current team: BaliPure Purest Water Defenders (PVL)
It is inarguable that Tatan Gata, as she was known during her Adamson days, is one of the best liberos this country has ever seen. She managed to stand out in a team full of good floor defenders, which is a testament of how good she is.
Attackers definitely hate playing a team with Gata-Pantone as the libero, for they know they will be frustrated time and time again by her ‘annoying’ perfect digs. Deprived of the agility her position demands, her intelligent and accurate positioning in the backrow relative to her teammates’ blocking formation makes her defense stand out. All of this, including her ‘direct to the setter’ receptions, she does with grace and composure.
She once saw action for PLDT during the 2014 AVC Asian Women’s Clubs Championship, and was recognized by world-famous Chinese coach Lang Ping for her talent in reading the ball accurately. Now, she plays in the then-SVL-turned-Premier Volleyball League, where she holds the record of being the most decorated libero in the league’s thirteen-year history.
3. Melissa “Mel” Gohing
Current team: Pocari Sweat Lady Warriors (PVL)
Throughout recent seasons, De La Salle University has cemented the fact that it is the UAAP’s best defensive team, as evidenced by its great blockers and industrious defenders. One of them is ‘The Ninja’, Melissa Gohing.
Upon her entry to the UAAP in Season 71, she immediately turned heads as she bagged Rookie of the Year award as a libero, a feat unmatched until six years later. Although her rival Jen Reyes dominated the UAAP during the years playing against one another, it is Gohing’s solid and consistent back-row defense that made DLSU conquer the powerhouse UST and emerging Ateneo teams, making her a four-time UAAP champion.
She has previously been in the shadow of other outstanding liberos, but it is in her current team’s transfer to PVL that made her stand out again. Now playing with the Pocari Sweat Lady Warriors, her solid presence in the back row allows her team’s setters and attackers to achieve a cohesive attacking rhythm. In the PVL, she still delivers those saves and dives, as she announces her comeback to prominence as one of the liberos to watch out for.
2. Denden Lazaro
Current team: Cocolife Asset Managers (PSL)
Known as Ateneo’s ‘Iron Eagle’, Denden Lazaro made her name in UAAP Season 76, where she served as the Lady Eagles’ most significant defensive piece, which delivered their school its first volleyball championship.
Like her hero, Lizlee Gata-Pantone, her positioning in the back-row is so accurate that all she has to do is to get low and absorb the power of the approaching hits through her tough arms.
Denden has a good eye for dealing with big opposite hits and possesses good attacking coverage, which compliments her signature receptions. With these assets, Lazaro has dominated the stats sheets, always passing the ball accurately to whoever her setter may be.
She is a long-time national team member, and was unofficially proclaimed as the 2015 SEA Games Best Libero topping other big-name Asian liberos in the official Games’ data.
1. Dawn Macandili
Current team: DLSU Lady Spikers (UAAP) / F2 Logistics Cargo Movers (PSL)
This list would not be complete without “Ms. Everywhere” herself, Dawn Nicole Macandili of De La Salle University.
Despite her brief career, she has already achieved unbelievable feats in Philippine volleyball history, making her today’s best Filipino libero. Recognized by various coaches from Thailand and Japan, she was the country’s first MVP Libero, having won the accolade in the 2016 All Filipino Conference of the Philippine Superliga.
This year, it was followed by the prestigious 2nd Best Libero award she received when the AVC Women’s Senior Volleyball Championships was held in Laguna. This was in addition to her now-three UAAP awards, beginning with both the Best Digger and Receiver awards in Season 78 and Season 79’s Best Receiver plum.
She triumphed against the pressure of succeeding Mel Gohing when she let her performances talk in UAAP Season 78, with a whopping receiving rate and life-saving efforts to dig every ball. No ball will fall without Dawn trying to retrieve it, which is a scary thought for her team’s rivals.
Among the liberos in the Philippines, her playing style is different; her unbelievable agility, reaction times, and willingness to sacrifice her small frame is often compared to the style of Japanese liberos.
Currently, she is the starting libero of the Philippine women’s volleyball team, with #2 Denden Lazaro as her backup – a good indication that our country’s floor defense is in good hands. Other active, excellent Filipino liberos deserving of a mention include the Princess Cup Best Libero Kath Arado, Jheck Dionela, Bia General, Alyssa Eroa and Buding Duremdes.