UCLA men’s volleyball’s JT Hatch did not start his first game at libero this season until last week, but the position change isn’t unfamiliar to his teammates.
Hatch played a few matches at libero in his freshman year and at various times throughout his high school career, so the contrasting jersey is not a foreign experience.
The junior typically played both front and back row as an outside hitter for the No. 6 Bruins (17-7, 10-6 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) and passed from middle back. Liberos will often pass from left back, but coach John Speraw had Hatch stay in the middle of the court.
“it’s nothing new really – I just have to make sure to set the second ball if the setter digs,” Hatch said. “It’s a little different not having (sophomore libero Davis Gillett) out there passing, so I have to do a lot more work.”
Speraw moved Hatch from outside hitter to libero at the opening of the fourth set against Concordia in what would be a five-set victory. The Bruins trailed the Eagles two sets to one, and Speraw said he saw the deficit as the time to experiment with his lineup.
In the six matches prior to Concordia, Hatch only saw time in nine of the 22 sets. Speraw had begun to favor sophomore Dylan Missry for the second outside hitter position beside junior Jake Arnitz.
Speraw said that he saw the movement of Hatch to libero as a way to have Hatch, Missry and Arnitz all on the court.
“It’s every coach’s job to see what the best combo is,” Speraw said. “JT is our best passer, so if we can get him on the court with Dylan and Arnitz, I wanted to see what small little margin that could give us. And at this point, every little percentage matters.”
Speraw said that he thinks Hatch will have to grow quickly in the position, but his teammates are already noticing the benefit of having Hatch remain in the back row. The team has won seven consecutive games. Since the switch, Hatch has recorded 21 digs.
“I’ve got a good connection with JT and we have good connection with everyone on the team,” said senior setter Hagen Smith. “We can’t really keep him off the court.”