Janey Greenberg, a junior libero from Stuttgart, rests between points during the inaugural DODDS-Europe volleyball all star game Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Janey Greenberg, a junior libero from Stuttgart, rests between points during the inaugural DODDS-Europe volleyball all star game Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (Dan Stoutamire/Stars and Stripes)

The contributions Janey Greenberg makes in a volleyball match aren’t always obvious to the average fan. But the results couldn’t be any clearer.

Greenberg, a junior for the DODDS-Europe Division I champion Stuttgart Panthers, plays the position of libero. She’s not the one leaping for powerful, flashy spikes at the net – that’s the hitter. She’s not the one boldly contesting that kill from the other side of the net – that’s the blocker. She’s not even the one who carefully places the ball in position for the final attack – that’s the setter.

Instead, Greenberg is the one that makes all of that possible.

As libero, Greenberg’s job is to patrol the back row and receive the opposing team’s attack with a maneuver called a dig, which sometimes requires a dive or lunge and nearly always requires extraordinarily quick reflexes. But since a volleyball team is allowed just three hits before returning the ball over the net, it’s not enough to simply prevent the ball from hitting the court; that dig also represents the launch of the team’s offensive possession. A bad dig often leads to a weak shove over the net, if it makes it over at all, and a prime opportunity for the opponent to pounce. A good dig triggers the familiar sequence of which volleyball highlights are made: a gentle, precise set followed by an emphatic spike.

“Without the pass,” Greenberg said. “You don’t have anything else.”

Greenberg made a lot of good passes this season, and it led to a lot of good things for the Panthers, notably the program’s first-ever European championship. As a result, Greenberg is the 2015 Stars and Stripes volleyball Athlete of the Year.

That’s a rapid ascent for the diminutive junior, who just a few short years ago was aware of precisely none of the aforementioned nuances of the sport.

“I didn’t even know what volleyball was,” Greenberg said. “I had no idea it was even a sport.”

That changed in Greenberg’s eighth grade year. While she’s been in Stuttgart for most of her 17 years, she spent that particular year attending school in California. There she witnessed some friends playing volleyball, and was immediately intrigued.

“I went and watched their games,” Greenberg said. “Then I was like, ‘This is really cool.’”

Upon returning to Stuttgart – then called Patch – for high school, Greenberg successfully tried out for the Panther volleyball team. Some early-season roster shuffling landed Greenberg at libero, a role she could capably occupy despite her lack of traditional volleyball height.

It’s an unglamorous position, akin to a football lineman or a softball catcher, and one in which ricocheting mistakes are more apparent than subtle successes to casual onlookers.

But Greenberg’s mastery of the position’s subtleties hasn’t gone unnoticed – she was named the MVP of the Division I European tournament and was selected as one of 24 participants in the postseason DODDS-Europe volleyball all-star event.

As satisfying as such accolades are, Greenberg doesn’t need them to appreciate her role as libero. That comes from her team’s unprecedented success, her irrevocable bond with her Stuttgart teammates and the simple joys of a job well done.

“I like it a lot. It’s not like I’m forced in that position,” Greenberg said. “When you get a good dig, and you’re like, ‘Yeah,’ it’s a really good feeling.”

Twitter: @broomestripes

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