By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Being the libero on a college volleyball team is a totally thankless job. There’s not a lot of glory and attention. You’re not exactly lighting up the statistical score sheet. You basically have to work hard to make defensive plays to help your team — and not much else.
“It’s really tough,” Rutgers- Newark head women’s volleyball coach Jason Madsen said. “There’s a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. It takes a special player.”
For the Scarlet Raiders, that special player is senior Paulina Walega, a graduate of Harrison High School.
One of the lone seniors on the Rutgers-Newark women’s volleyball roster this year, Walega was asked to become more of a leader while handling the role of libero.
“She started as a libero for us, but then we moved her to outside hitter,” Madsen said. “We were struggling offensively as a team and Paulina hit the ball well, so we moved her up. But now, we have her back at libero. She’s more comfortable there. Plus, we have so many young players on the court that we need to have someone like Paulina to lead us.”
Walega doesn’t mind handling the responsibility.
“It’s really tough, because everyone relies on you,” Walega said. “I can’t let the team down and I accept that.”
As for being the overlooked libero?
“Everyone can get offensive numbers, but defense saves the games,” Walega said. “I’ve become used to it. It’s really not nerve wracking anymore.”
Walega knew this season that she was going to have to be a leader.
“Being one of the only seniors and with all the young girls coming in, I knew I had to step up,” Walega said. “I actually like it. I like the responsibility and I like the role. On the court, I have to be the one to make sure that everyone doesn’t get nervous. I basically have to be like the coach on the floor. I have to make sure that no one gets down and everyone stays focused.”
According to Madsen, Walega takes that role one step further.
“She has to be the one who has the ‘team first’ mentality,” Madsen said. “It’s so important to have a strong libero, because if you do, you have a chance to make the plays and put the whole offense in motion. She definitely does that. She’s also in position to develop the younger players, like she’s the coach out there on the floor. She’s taken the role and accepted the role of being the leader.”
Walega led the Scarlet Raiders in digs with 290 and had 14 service aces.
“That’s what we were looking for,” Madsen said. “We needed someone to take charge. We’re so happy to have Paulina, because through her efforts, everyone now looks at her as the leader, both on and off the court. The libero is a thankless position. Everyone goes to a volleyball match, looking to see the high fliers and hard hitters. The libero is not noticed unless you don’t do your job. It’s all about defense. Having the libero like Paulina is a big help for us.”
Madsen also loves Walega’s personality.
“She has a great attitude and she’s a lot of fun to be around,” Madsen said. “If she’s playing well in the beginning and gets everyone going, it’s all good for us.”
Walega has always liked to be the one to get others going.
“I try to be as supportive as possible,” Walega said. “I can’t play if I feel a negative vibe. So I have to keep the positive attitude.”
Walega is a student/athlete in the truest sense. She has a double major in criminal justice and accounting and will eventually graduate with more than 150 accumulated credits.
“It’s really not that hard,” Walega said. “It’s all a matter of how I spend my time. I guess I just tend to spend it wisely.”
It is a unique double major for sure.
“Everyone says that,” Walega said. “They all ask what I’m going to do with those two majors. I just kind of wanted to do both and I want to do something with both, maybe insurance fraud or white collar crime.”
There’s only one downside to Walega being a senior.
“I just wish she had more time to work with our young players,” Madsen said. “She’s doing well and has such a great attitude. I was so happy to have a player like Paulina in our program.”
“Volleyball and school work is basically all the same,” Walega said. “As long as you have the same mentality, then it’s fine. Having a good attitude is all you need to have. I always want to have the same mentality that you need to succeed.”
Sure looks Walega has her life after volleyball all in place.