Loyola’s defense starts with Lauren Stadler

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When she started playing volleyball in sixth grade at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glenview, Lauren Stadler didn’t have much of a choice when it came to her spot on the court.

As one of the smaller girls on the team, Stadler was shuffled to the back row.

Now a 5-6 junior at Loyola, Stadler continues to be a perfect fit for the libero position.

While players like Stadler don’t get the same attention as outside hitters who score most of the points, Loyola coach Mark Chang said the Ramblers wouldn’t be where they are this season without Stadler.

“Our defense is excellent,” Chang said. “Lauren doesn’t let a ball drop. Her speed and ability to read and go get a ball is the best I’ve seen in the past 10 years.

“Not only does she know her position, she has the innate ability to predict where a ball is going to be. Certain things can be taught, but her instinct is what helps us.”

According to Chang, libero is a dynamic position and one that requires an athletic player. The libero’s responsibilities include anchoring the defense and initiating the offense by chasing down the first ball the opposing team hits over the net. Coaches also like their liberos to be strong servers, and the players often are used as a second setting option if the setter takes the first touch.

Through 12 games, Stadler was among the team leaders in digs, aces and fewest errors committed. Loyola, which starts six juniors and one sophomore, entered the Sept. 18 match against Zion-Benton at 10-2 overall.

“The No. 1 priority of a libero is court senses,” Stadler said. “It’s simple when a ball comes right to you, but that doesn’t happen often. You have to be focused and fast because a play happens in a matter of seconds. You have to be able to pick up things quickly.”

Stadler showed off her speed and ball control during Loyola’s match against Glenbrook South at New Trier’s tournament earlier this month. In one of the games, Stadler said she raced after a sinking ball, dove for it and kept it in play for a teammate to set. The Ramblers ultimately won the point.

“Everybody thinks that point is over, but it wasn’t,” Stadler said. “That’s an amazing feeling.

“A good libero needs to be a leader and willing to sacrifice everything to get the ball up, especially if people think it’s going to drop.”

Not all of Stadler’s digs are that spectacular, but junior setter Katie Randolph said the libero makes her job easier.

“I need good passes, and I can always count on her,” Randolph said. “Even when she’s diving all over the court, she really makes solid passes.”

Stadler was a defensive specialist on the varsity squad last season, and Randolph said she could tell Stadler was a natural on the back row.

“I know how hard it is to play right back on defense, and she got to most balls and got most balls up,” Randolph said. “I was excited to see what she could do this season.”

Chang said liberos sometimes are overlooked, but Stadler said she doesn’t feel that way, at least not by her teammates.

“I don’t think so,” Stadler said. “Obviously, the hitters get the praise because that’s who wins the points. But without people on defense, on the back row, there is no offense.”

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