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Kansas Volleyball: Learning the game and college volleyball basics

With Kansas primed for another Final Four volleyball run, it might help to know: what the heck are they doing out there?

Michael Plank


It’s the sport Jeff Withey was good at before he came to Kansas. I bet none of y’all had ever heard that before, either. But it’s true!

Some of you may have tried to watch some of the matches over the past couple of years. Maybe you found yourself wondering what was going on down there. Maybe you’re wondering who is on the roster and who to keep an eye on. Well my friends, do not fret any longer, as I will attempt to answer your questions in this short series of two posts.

Let’s start with the basics.

How to Play Volleyball

I assume most of us have a rudimentary knowledge of the game, if from nothing else middle school gym class. A quick summary, courtesy of Strength and Power for Volleyball:

- 6 players on a team, 3 in front and 3 in back.

- Maximum of three hits per side.

- The same player may not hit the ball twice in a row. Exception: A block is not considered a hit.

- The ball may be played off the net during volleys and on serves, unless it hits one of the antenna on either side of the net.

- The line is in-bounds (like tennis, or the opposite of basketball).

- The ball is out if it hits:

* an antennae

* the floor completely outside of the court of play

* any of the net or cables outside of the antennae

* the referee stand or pole

* the ceiling in an area not directly above the court of play

- You can also lose the point if:

* A part of a players body passes under the net to the other team’s court (a point of emphasis in the NCAA this season)

* A player on your team touches or hit the net (exception, if the volleyball hits the net resulting in the net hitting a player)

- You can hit the ball with any part of your body (foot, thigh, face, etc).

- You cannot catch, hold, or throw the ball.

- You cannot block a serve.

- You cannot attack a serve (jump and strike with an overhand swing).

- Back row players cannot come up and block at the net or attack within the 10-foot line.

- The NCAA went to rally scoring in 2001, which means someone wins a point on every serve.

- Players rotate when their team begins serving.

- Rotating is very complicated in college. Or at least I think it is because I’ve been going for five years and I still haven’t figured it out. They don’t do it the way you do in your gym’s open volleyball nights. Yes, the players rotate. They have to start a point in a certain order on the court. But as soon as the serve is struck, they can run around anywhere. Whether you are “front row” (think frontcourt in basketball, closest to the net) or “back row” at the beginning of the point basically determines whether or not you can block or attack at the net.

- Matches are best 3 out of 5 sets. Sets are to 25 points with the exception of the 5th set, which is to 15. Each set must be won by at least two points.

- In college, each team is allowed three video review challenges each per match.


Again, courtesy of Strength and Power for Volleyball:

Attack: Also called a hit, is when you jump and strike the ball with an overhand swing (think throwing a baseball).

Kill: A successful hit by an attacker that results in a point for the attacking team.

Block: Any combination of front-row players may attempt a block with the purpose of preventing an attack from crossing the net.

Dig: When a defender successfully receives an opponent’s attack and passes it to a teammate.

Set: When a player attempts to place the ball near the net so a teammate can attack. Ideally, the set will be close enough to the net for the hitter to have a good swing, but far enough away from the net to avoid a counter-attack.

Rally: Just like in tennis, the time between the serve and the end of the point.

Double touch: When the same player hits the ball twice in succession, most often called when trying to set with two hands (hands must hit the ball at the same time).

Lift: Similar to a “carry” in basketball, when a player pushes the ball up with their hands without striking it.

Roofing: An illegal block that occurs when the opponent has not used 3 contacts AND they have a player there to make a play on the ball (usually that player is the setter)

Free ball: When a team uses its third hit to send the ball back over the net without an attack.

The Players

Again, you have players who specialize in front row and players who specialize in back row. Some players are versatile enough to play all the way around.

Front row players are your Outside Hitters and Middle Blockers. They are, obviously, generally taller players with good leaping abilities. Back row players are generally shorter and quicker and are primarily defensive specialists, although again, some players will rotate around all six positions without being substituted.

The “Libero” is the player you see on the floor wearing a different color jersey. She is generally a defensive specialist. The libero cannot block or attack the ball when it is above the net; therefore, you won’t be seeing a libero in the front row. The libero can sub anywhere into the back row without counting against a team’s substitution limit. (There is a substitution limit per set; I think it’s 12.)

The Setter is a designated player on the court whose job it is to receive every first pass (meaning, the setter would get the second touch), sometimes regardless of where it goes. Some teams will deliberately attack a setter to make her have the first touch, then someone else, usually less experienced at setting, is forced to handle the second hit. Some teams will have two setters on the court for this reason. The setter can be at any position on the court, and is affected only by the rules governing whether she is a front-row or back-row player at the start of a point.


So volleyball basics: Serve, receive, set, attack. Stay in your rotation for serving order. And win three sets before your opponent does!