by Duane Cochran for FightingFalcons.com
FAIRMONT – The libero isn't the easiest position in volleyball to define.
Come to a Fairmont State University match and you'll see Falcon senior Morgan Walls play it to near perfection.
Pinpointing Walls won't be hard either. She'll be the one in a different color jersey from her teammates, constantly located in the back row and making plays here, there and everywhere on the floor in an attempt to put her squad in a position to score.
The libero, you see, is a defensive specialist. The position was created in 1999 along with some rule modifications to help foster more digs, more rallies and make volleyball a more exciting and fun sport to both play and watch. So far it's been a major success.
Not everyone can play libero. It takes a unique and talented individual, and Walls fits that bill for the Falcons to a T.
“One of the key ingredients to being a good libero is you've got to be energetic and enthusiastic, and Morgan certainly possesses those qualities,” said veteran FSU coach Larry Hill, who is set to begin his 28th season as the school's head coach this fall. “She's a very organized individual and does a great job in a leadership role for our team. She also has a very strong desire to win and be successful.
“She's a player who absolutely refuses to let balls hit the floor. She's going to do everything she possibly can to keep our offense going by turning their offense back into a dig and a good pass so we can transition and play the ball up. She's just a very good player for us and has been throughout her career here.”
Walls, who was a prep standout at Woodrow Wilson High School in Beckley, has been the starting libero for the Falcons since her freshman season in 2008. She's led FSU in digs the last three years and currently sits fourth all-time in school history with 1,552 career digs.
“I wouldn't want to do any other job,” said Walls with a laugh. “In practice we get to hit and set a little bit, but defense is my specialty. That's what I enjoy the most and what I have fun doing.
“I think a big part of being a libero is being a leader because you are out there on the court more than most others, even the setter. And now in the last couple of years we're able to serve so that adds to our role. One of the things about the position is that because we are in the back row we get to see everything from behind. We get to see where the block is going, we see where the hit is going and where the set ends so you're kind of a go-to person. Often I'll get asked by my teammates 'Did I close?' and I can make the call if anything needs to change. I kind of like that aspect of it.
“I think over time I've earned my credibility here. I think the girls look to me to see how they're playing and I try to give them the best advice I can.”
No one can question Walls' dedication to her team and the sport. Following her freshman season in which she experienced a lot of pain in her shin, she had a metal rod surgically inserted into her tibia in an effort to help prevent a possible fracture there in the future.
“When she told me what she had done I was a little shocked,” said longtime FSU trainer Bob Cable. “It's extreme, but it just shows how committed she is as an athlete.”
FSU's volleyball team was picked fourth in the 15-team West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference's coaches' preseason poll. The Falcons open the season Sept. 2-3 at home at the Joe Retton Arena when they host their own 10-team Falcon Fest Tournament.
“We've got some talent on this team,” said Walls. “No freshman we have plays like a freshman. They're coming out of good club teams and one of the things I really like about this team is we can throw a mixture of people in at different positions and they're going to get the job done for us.
“Last year we really bonded as a team. This year it's no different. As seniors Jess (Jessica Seevers, the team's senior setter) and I stress to everyone how important unity is. We spend a lot of time together as a team and when we go to the mall we wear our Fairmont State volleyball gear. We want people to know who we are. There's a lot of pride and camaraderie on our team.”
On a personal note Walls needs just 255 more digs for her career to replace Martha Ganoe (1986-90) as the school's all-time leader in that category. Ganoe finished her stellar career with 1,806 digs and has held the school record for 20 years.
“I want to break the record, but in all honestly I don't know what I need to break the record and I don't want to know,” Walls said. “I don't want to go into games during the season thinking 'Oh, I need five more digs to break the record or I need this many digs to do it.' That's a distraction and I don't want it to take away from what we're trying to accomplish as a team.
“The record would be great and certainly it would be something I'd be very proud of, but in all honestly my biggest goal this season is for us to win a conference championship. In all of my years of playing this sport I've never won a ring or a championship. That's my main goal. The icing on the cake, so to speak, would be getting the school record.”