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All-Europe volleyball for 2008 is better than ever.

And according to members of the seven-coach selection panel chaired by DODDS-Europe athletic coordinator Karen Seadore, the way to tell how much better this team is than its predecessors is to look at what’s missing.

This year, there’s not a libero in sight.

“Unlike the previous years, this year’s team consists of some very talented all-around players,” e-mailed panelist Mike Rubino, coach of Division I champion Heidelberg. “The absence of a libero position speaks for the strengths of these players.”

For laymen, a libero is a purely defensive player, in essence a one-dimensional performer who is allowed to neither block nor attack above the net, according to panelist Shawn McCarthy of Sigonella. This year’s all-stars, he wrote in an e-mail, didn’t need that sort of specialized help.

“What is particularly interesting about this year’s squad,” he wrote, “is the high level of athleticism and versatility; they could play both offensively and defensively. Most of the outside hitters on the squad were leaders in both kills and blocks while also posting aces. Likewise, the setters were leaders in terms of assists and aces while also posting kills.”

Bearing out McCarthy’s contention, for example, was Ramstein junior Charnel Austin, a 2007 first-teamer and one of three 2008 first-teamers selected as a combination setter-outside hitter. Austin can hit — 180 kills — but she also served at a 90 percent success rate, according to her coach, Hia Sebastian. Twenty-four percent of those serves, moreover, were aces, Sebastian said. Austin also posted an astounding 193 assists and came up with 52 digs.

SHAPE sophomore setter-outside hitter Liene Bauska, a second-teamer as a freshman, averaged seven aces per match, according to her coach, James Nelson, while posting 24 kills and 10 blocks per outing, and Heidelberg senior setter-hitter Emily Robertson served 36 aces during her near-90 percent serving season, according to Rubino, in addition to hammering 106 kills and passing out 104 assists.

Or take the case of Rota senior Bethany Walcott, a 5-foot-10 middle blocker selected to the first team for the third straight year. In just six matches against Spanish and three DODDS team, Walcott served 15 aces to go with her 66 kills and 36 blocks, according to her coach, Judy Scarborough.

“Bethany was our multipurpose player,” Scarborough wrote in nominating her star for the team.

Walcott is the only three-term choice on the 2008 squad. Austin and junior Katrina Alsup of D-III champion Baumholder were first-teamers in 2007, and Heidelberg senior Ashley Hicks made the first team in 2006 as a Vilseck sophomore.

Bauska and Heidelberg senior Teri Henderson appeared on the second team in 2007, as did current second-team choices Emily Mittag of Hohenfels and Karis Wadsack of Ramstein.

Ebonee DeVos of Division II champion SHAPE, hampered by injury in ’08, and Lisa McBride of Lakenheath, both first-teamers in 2007, were named to the second unit this time around.

Fifteen seniors, five juniors and three sophomores made the top 24 in 2008. Niki Gombar of Marymount International School of Rome was picked for the first team and was the only freshman named to either squad. Division I schools took 11 of the slots; six went to teams in D-II, five to D-III and two, both on the first team, to D-IV. Ramstein had four players in the top 24. Heidelberg and SHAPE placed three each on the roster, but don’t let those D-I/II crowds throw you, Hillestad advised.

“There were strong players in D-IV and D-III,” he concluded, “not just at the big schools.”

Although she had no quarrel with the composition of the team, selection panelist Kathy Clemmons of Hohenfels did find one cause for regret about the ’08 stars.

“It is unfortunate we are not able to take this group of girls to the States and play in a tournament,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I truly believe they would be one of the top teams there.”


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