In last week’s installment of our Rotation 201 series, we looked at Rotation 4. Specifically, we looked at what several of the top National teams are doing in that rotation. Today, we’ll look at how top NCAA teams are managing Rotation 4, partly as a result of different rule sets between International and American volleyball.
International volleyball only allows 6 subs and one entry to the game, so players effectively must play all the way around. A “6-2,” as it is commonly run in American volleyball, where the setters sub out in the front row for opposite hitters, doesn’t exist, except for a one-time substitution within a game. Also, hitters cannot be subbed out for passers or defensive specialists in the back row. They must pass and defend. However, American rules allow for many subs. When combined with the libero, NCAA teams can get by with only one player playing all 6 rotations. This changes how rotations are handled, especially when the setter gets to the front row- in Rotations 4, 5, and 6.
Top National teams also feature more experienced and higher-level players, who are more proficient attacking out of the back row. Although top NCAA teams do utilize the back row attack (and it may be becoming more important, especially at the Final Four level of NCAA volleyball), it’s a less important part of the game than it is in International volleyball.
These factors combine to create this as the most common Rotation 4 alignment in NCAA volleyball:
A defensive specialist has subbed in for the back row opposite, and is in the passing alignment. This allows the front-row outside to step out of serve receive, and also allows the libero to shift into Zone 6. In that way, it’s almost the same effect that we saw teams with a passing opposite (like China) get:
China pulls their back row outside out of serve receive, while BYU pulls their front row outside out. But either way, they use an opposite to pass while freeing up another attacker. The difference is, it’s a lot harder for NCAA teams to find an opposite who can hit in the front row and pass in the back row then it is for them to recruit a second libero who can sub in and out with an opposite hitter as a back row substitution. The rules allow for it, so NCAA teams would be foolish not to use it! In fact, we’ll see most NCAA teams use this alignment:
BYU, Texas, Nebraska, and Illinois were among many of the top NCAA teams that used this alignment in Rotation 4 last year. Here is Nebraska in Rotation 4 in last year’s Final Four:
Like most NCAA teams, Nebraska puts their strongest slide attacking middle next to the setter, and features her primarily going behind the setter in this Rotation. A few other items to notice about how Nebraska runs this rotation:
- The setter cheats over as far as she can. Rotation 4 is the most difficult release for setters, because they have to run a long way and then get turned back to the left side of the court. Some setters make it harder on themselves by standing all the way on the left sideline. The Nebraska setter pushes over as far as possible, shortening the distance she has to run by a few feet. A small detail, but important.
- In order to allow the setter to cheat, the middle and outside who aren’t passing have to push in a bit with her. This can create a bit of congestion in front of the back row outside passing in Zone 5, so these players need to be watching the server to make sure they don’t get in the way of the passer.
- The middle attacker enters deep into the middle of the court. She uses a 4 + 4 footwork with 4 steps to take her into the middle of the court (a 2-step shuffle hop, and then 2 walking steps), and then 4 steps to attack the ball. This deep middle release allows her to be available to hit behind the setter, even if the pass isn’t perfect. A shallower release makes it harder to get around the setter if the pass comes off the net.
Two teams that have surged to the top of the NCAA this season are Baylor and Pittsburgh. Let’s look at their Rotation 4 and see if there’s anything we can learn. First, Baylor:
We see them using a similar setup to Nebraska, with their front row outside out of serve receive and a back row D/S in the game. We also see them being even more aggressive than Nebraska about pushing that stack over to allow the setter the best release possible. This is an important detail that many high school teams can benefit form.
What I also like about Baylor’s approach to Rotation 4 is their versatility. Their outside hitter in this rotation, Yossiana Pressley, is 2nd in the NCAA in kills per set. They want to get her the ball a lot, and the want to use their middle attacker in ways to take the pressure off their outside by producing some kills and create openings in the block, to give Pressley some space to attack. In these 4 plays, we see them: (1) Keep the middle in front and set her, (2) Run the middle behind and set her, (3) Keep the middle in front and set the outside, and (4) Run the middle behind and set the outside.
On the fourth play, they add an additional wrinkle by running the middle behind on a Slide and then setting Pressley an Inside set (sometimes called a, “Rip,” or “32”). This is a nice combination. With such a strong outside attacker, the right side blocker often starts to head all the way to the pin. With a Slide keeping the middle blocker held in the middle of the court, this Inside set finds a nice opening for an attacker like Pressley to score easily.
Next, let’s look at Pittsburgh:
Pittsburgh has a similar alignment to Serbia, with an opposite hitter pushed out of serve receive in right back, and both their front row and back row outsides passing. However, unlike Serbia, their opposite is not a major part of their sideout game in Rotation 4. They will set her sometimes in transition, but rarely out of serve receive. Instead, they mostly run their middle behind the setter on a Slide and use her and their outside as the primary attackers.
We also see the setter on Pitt pushing into the court, and we see the middle attacker behind the attack line. This helps her enter deep middle to be available on the Slide, and, as we see in one of the clips, also allows her to be available to help pass a short ball. Many high school teams keep their middle attackers too close to the net in serve receive. A common thread with all of these high level teams is to have their middles off the net in serve receive, to help pass short balls and make their entries to attack easier.
Rotation 4 is one of the most challenging rotations for most high school teams. In fact, in our GMS Stats App data set, Rotation 4 had the second-worst sideout % among high school teams. The release is challenging for the setter, and teams only have 2 options, instead of 3. Hopefully this 2-part analysis of Rotation 4 illuminates some overall trends of high level teams, and gives you some ideas on how to adapt your sideout strategy to the specific strengths and weaknesses of your team!