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Michella Chester | March 2, 2021

Here are the top college volleyball liberos in 2021

These are the top college volleyball liberos in 2021

We've already looked at some of the top returning college volleyball players to watch out for in 2021. Now it's time to give the defense some love.

A quick refresher — we narrowed that group of top returning players down by picking from mostly offensive players that we thought could lead title contenders to a national championship. We are doing the same for liberos, but adding in some freshmen too since since the season is underway.

Here are some of the top college volleyball liberos this year, picked from the top teams in the country.

CC McGraw — Minnesota

CC McGraw

CC McGraw, a junior libero at Minnesota, is one of the few returning superstars from last season at the libero position. She's a no-brainer to be on any list of the best liberos in the country. McGraw was a 2019 AVCA All-America honorable mention, just one of two on this list to receive the honor last year. She finished last season ranked first on the team in digs (449) and tied for first in aces (27) in 2019 (even with eight missed sets due to injury). 

She averages 4.35 digs per set with a .918 reception percentage on a top-five team. This is going up against high-caliber Big Ten competition on the other side of the net, and behind a strong blocking team, so there are no padded stats here. If you watch McGraw play, which you can see in the video above, she is unreal in the backcourt.

Opponents this season have a low .194 hitting percentage. 

Hatti Monson — Notre Dame 

Hattie Monson ND

We have got our first freshman phenom on the list in Hattie Monson. Monson averages five digs per set this season for the top-15 Fighting Irish. That is the highest average of anyone on this list. She took home ACC Freshman of the Week earlier in the season, but I am sure there is much more where that came from for this libero. Notre Dame has a .173 opponent hitting percentage with Monson anchoring the backcourt. 

Jena Otec — Purdue

Jenna Otec

Jena Otec is a senior this season with a ton of experience in the Big Ten. She finished 2019 leading the entire Big Ten conference in aces with 50, an impressive feat and added bonus talent for a libero. This year, Purdue looks strong, and they are going up against top-tier competition and some of the best hitters in the country. Otec averages 4.12 digs/set with a .976 reception percentage and 15 service aces. 

Lauren Barnes — Wisconsin

Lauren Barnes

How about the libero for the current No. 1 team in the country? Barnes has seamlessly stepped into the starting libero role in place of Tiffany Clark this season. She is going up against the top hitters in the country day in and day out, averaging 3.88 digs per set with an impressive .977 reception percentage. Wisconsin also has an impressive .122 opponent hitting percentage, clearly one of the top defensive teams in the NCAA. 

Gabby Curry — Kentucky

Gabby Curry

Gabby Curry is the second AVCA All-American honorable mention from last season on this list. In fact, she was an honorable mention in both 2018 and 2019. She finished 2019 as the SEC Libero of the Year for the second year in a row and eclipsed the 1,000 career dig mark. She's also on the 2018 and 2019 All-SEC team and is a four-time SEC Player of the Week. Now she anchors the back-court defense for a top-three nationally ranked team, averaging 3.51 digs per set.

Alexis Hamilton — Louisville

Another libero in the ACC makes the list this season in Alexis Hamilton. Hamilton is a veteran player on this Louisville team, hence a big part of the Cardinals' upset over Texas in the 2019 NCAA tournament. She finished last season with 467 digs and team-high 30 service aces. This year, she averages a high 3.91 digs per set.  

Zoe Fleck — UCLA

Zoe Fleck is a junior libero for the Bruins this season and already has 192 digs and an impressive 4.27 digs per set. Fleck played for UC Santa Barbara in 2018 and 2019 and racked up 635 digs, producing double-digit digs in 21 out of 29 matches last season.

Jenna Hampton — Penn State

Jenna Hampton

Penn State may have lost standout libero and AVCA Second Team All-American Kendall White to graduation last season, but they are not without talent in the backcourt with Jenna Hampton. Hampton still played in 32 of 33 matches at defensive specialist with White last season and tallied 183 digs. This season, she averages 3.81 digs per set and a .963 reception percentage. 

Morgan O'Brien — Texas

Morgan O'Brien

Morgan O'Brien might be new to the Longhorns roster in 2020-2021, but she is certainly not new to high-caliber competition. Different shade of orange maybe, but O'Brien played for Illinois and notched 571 digs, averaged 3.83 digs per set and had 29 aces in 2019. Those are some stats, and now she gets to do it for the No. 2 team in the country as a graduate transfer. So far this season, she averages 3.63 digs per set and is certainly a well-known and appreciated libero in the NCAA. 

Kenzie Knuckles — Nebraska

Kenzie Knuckles Nebraska

Kenzie Knuckles is back for her second season as a Husker, so get used to seeing plenty of her diving plays in the backcourt. Especially this year, where Nebraska is one of the top teams in the country with premiere talent and depth on its roster. Knuckles has 93 digs so far, even with some of the Huskers' matches having been postponed, 3.44 digs per set and a .956 reception percentage. 
 

Elli McKissock — Florida

We have another freshman to make the list. Elli McKissock averages 3.8 digs per set with 167 digs so far this season on a top-10 team. There is little to no adjustment period into collegiate player for McKissock, it seems. She also has nine service aces.

Shanel Bramschreiber — Baylor

Shanel Bramschrieber

Shanel Bramschreiber has stepped into a much bigger defensive role this season in her sophomore campaign. She has practically doubled her average amount of digs per set from last year to 3.62 this year. 

Shannon Crenshaw – Washington

Shannon Crenshaw also anchors the backcourt defense for a top-10 team this season. She just came up big defensively with 11 and 15 digs in each of Washington's wins over then No. 7 Utah this season. The Huskies took over the Pac-12 with the pair of wins. 

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