Junior liberos Emmy Friedler and Michelle Pereira propel the team’s defensive efforts forward with their internal competition.

Credit: Jashley Bido

A pair of third-year defensive specialists are coming together to put the team first, even though they’ll never wear the same uniform.

Penn volleyball juniors Emmy Friedler and Michelle Pereira each have one year of experience as a starter at the libero position heading into their penultimate seasons.

Friedler, a 5-foot-2 Illinois native who has played libero her whole career, wore the designated libero jersey as a freshman in 2014, finishing third in the Ivy League with 4.75 digs per set. Pereira, who at 5-foot-8 had been a hitter in high school, took a year to learn the position, but as a sophomore the California native finished second in the league with 5.26 digs per set while wearing the jersey in 2015.

As Pereira transitioned into the role of starting libero, Friedler had to transition into a role as a second-stringer.

“It was definitely a transition for me,” Friedler admitted. “There were definitely some new skills I had to learn not being on the court, like how to scout for my teammates, how to call open shots, how to give Perry the best information when she’s playing that position.”

But even when Pereira wasn’t playing the position, she was learning from Friedler.

“Watching Emmy freshman year, she just commands the defense, and that was something I had never had to do before, because I was always just a hitter, defense always came second,” Pereira said. “Emmy does a really good job focusing and running the defense and communicating with the other passers, because when you are the libero, you have to be a leader out there.”

This year, Friedler has her starting role back, but not at Pereira’s expense. Both defensive specialists have appeared in a team-high 38 sets this season. Pereira often wears the standout jersey, giving coach Kerry Carr free reign to sub her in and out of the game, but the two are often on the court at the same time, giving the Quakers a pair of defensive stalwarts on the court.

“It’s pretty awesome, playing together,” Friedler said. “It’s kind of underrated how well we work together, and now we’ve really gotten to see that in action. It’s so fun to have two defensive-minded people on each wing at the same time.”

“It definitely takes a lot of pressure off the whole team,” Pereira agreed.

At the end of the day, the two are still competing — if not with each other for the jersey, with themselves to be the best they can possibly be.

“We’re always pushing each other to be better, but we also know that we are there if the other has a bad game, has a bad day,” Pereira said. “We push each other, but it’s also a support system at the same time.”

“I think it’s good to have competition,” Carr said. “On the championship teams I’ve always had two liberos trying to fight it out. So I think it’s good to have that person that’s always there pushing you but also right beside you passing with you. And I think that’s what they had to learn between first and second year, how to push each other and then go out there and play with each other. That’s what they’ve learned how to do, and that’s what’s really special about their relationship.”

But the competition works, because Friedler and Pereira can win it together.

“They could be upset — the libero plays 3 more rotations than the other one, so that is the preferred position,” Carr said. “So they could be upset and not really play well in the other position. But they just said, ‘No, this can work together, this can be the best defensive team in the league,’ rather than, ‘I have to be the best player on the court.’

“They’ve decided that it’s not about who’s playing over who, it’s about our team beating the team across the net.”

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