Sarah Palmer is officially listed as a libero — a defensive specialist — on Texas’ volleyball roster, the last line of defense for the top-ranked Longhorns.
But being a libero in Texas’ scheme means much more than just finding a way to deny opponents’ best hitters a kill or a point landed by the team on the other side of the net. It’s also Palmer’s job to turn that potential kill into a good pass to the setter, who then starts the Longhorns’ offensive plays.
In that role, Palmer also becomes an offensive specialist. And a key part of Texas’ success.
Palmer has played in every set (79 of them) of every match (21 of them) for Texas, which has won 15 straight matches, including a perfect 12-0 start in Big 12 play, heading into Thursday’s home match with West Virginia (18-11, 4-9). Texas (19-2) also hosts Kansas State on Saturday.
Palmer leads the Longhorns in digs (285), digs per set (3.61) and is third in both assists and service aces. At times, she’s like a cat, quickly stretching or diving or lunging in any direction to prevent a ball from touching the floor.
“It’s my job to get the ball up and keep the points going,” Palmer said. “I try to anticipate where the hitter is going to try to place the ball and cheat a little toward that spot, but it’s more ‘see it, go get it’ than it is anything else.”
Hannah Allison, Texas’ setter, has been the beneficiary of many of Palmer’s digs over the past four seasons. The less running after a wayward pass Allison has to do allows her to quarterback the offense quicker and better.
“Sarah is a crucial part of our team because she controls the backcourt and she has so much experience,” Allison said. “The first contact has a huge impact on the rest of the play and the offense’s overall success in each point. Her consistent effort and stability gives our team confidence and an edge on the competition.”
Palmer likes to keep things light and loose in the locker room, a task that can be difficult as expectations begin to soar for the defending national champions and as the competition level, even among the Longhorns themselves, is at a fever pitch. “Sarah is just as competitive as the rest of us, but she’s also got a goofy personality that the team needs every now and then,” Allison said.
“Maybe I’ll try to say something funny or do a little dance or make a silly face that breaks some of the tension because even though volleyball at this level is serious stuff, it’s just a game,” Palmer said. “It might not seem like it, but we have a lot of fun out on the court.”
Etc.: Texas landed eight players on the Academic All-Big 12 team — Megan Futch, Bailey Webster, Palmer, Allison, Kat Brooks and Molly McCage on the first team, Haley Eckerman and Sara Hattis on the second team. … Khat Bell, a junior middle blocker, was named the Big 12’s player of the week. She leads the conference in blocks and matched her season high with eight blocks against Texas Tech.
Texas vs. West Virginia, 7 p.m., Gregory Gym, LHN