In volleyball, the libero is a unique position. She stays at the back line and is only responsible for defence, not being allowed to attack the ball if it is above net height. For a libero, the concentration is on digs, or how to keep the ball in play, not necessarily on winning the rally with the next kill.
To add to these differences, the libero wears a different coloured jersey than the rest of the team, making her stand out. Players in this position rarely sub out, and often play nearly the whole game; they must have leadership abilities and good communication. For many, in light of the extra attention and added responsibilities, this would be a daunting position.
Alison McKay, however, revels in this position, including the fact that she does not have to sit on the bench all that much: “I was itching to get on the court anyways last year.”
She describes her position and some of its necessary skills, saying, “You have to have a lot of ball control, you have to be able to pass the ball really well [. . .] I’m kind of the captain of the back row, setting all the plays and controlling where everyone moves.”
McKay made the jump to libero from defensive specialist this year after previous libero Alanna Chan left the team, and despite the added responsibilities, McKay found the transition easy. “I think it flowed because [they’re] very similar positions, it’s just that it’s a bigger role, you’re on the court more and wearing different coloured jerseys, you stand out a lot.”
The move was unexpected, as Chan left the team for a job, but it was welcomed by the Port Moody native: “It was like all of a sudden, boom, taking on that position but I’m really glad it all happened. I was ready to step up.”
Now entering her second year, she comments on finding herself in more of a leadership position after experiencing a full season in the NCAA: “I really like the role I’ve been taking on. It’s nice to be the one helping others instead of others helping me.”
McKay is able to draw upon her experiences from last year, watching the leaders on the team. She explains, “I learned so much. It was a lot of leading by example and that’s what I find I can do for the players coming in. I can show them how things work around here by just playing, [for example] going for every volleyball, the basic stuff the coach expects from us [. . .] I’m just taking that on now.”
As for her own game, McKay is a huge fan of tennis, both watching and playing, and draws upon tennis technique to help in volleyball. “[Tennis] kind of translates to volleyball, [because it shares] the quick side to side movements, back to back, hand-eye coordination.
“I also play beach volleyball which helps with my indoor [volleyball] skills. [It only has] two people in the court, while indoor has six, so you definitely have to be a bigger presence so it helps me back to indoor because I can take up a lot more of the court and feel more comfortable with that,” added the sophomore. “Beach volleyball is also a lot of running so I find it’s a really great workout that keeps you in shape all summer.”
A love of sport and athletics is a persistent theme, as she explains that being the daughter of Canadian Olympic wrestler Dave McKay may have put her on the path to being a successful athlete, though she stresses that it was always her choice. “I was always around the gym. Actually from the ages of five to 10, I was always up [at SFU] doing his wrestling classes with him and so I have been exposed to the gym and being on the track. Gym was my favourite subject at school, it was what I found most comforting and I probably get my competitive drive from him.
With the season starting up again, McKay looks to play a vital part in helping the volleyball team take that next step, becoming a full blown contender, advancing on the considerable successes of last season.
Having already won four of their first five games of non-conference competition, the Clan look well on their way.