We’ve reached the end! The sixth installment of our Rotations 201 series is here and today we’ll discuss Rotation 6. With the setter in zone 2, we again find ourselves with two front row attackers. Our two-part series on Rotation 4 discusses the differences between International and American NCAA teams in how they handle the setter-front rotations. Our Rotation 6 analysis will focus on top NCAA teams.
First, we’ll look at the University of Georgia. GMS Advisory Staff Coach Tom Black has led a turn-around from last in the SEC to a 20-9 record. The Dawgs turned heads when they upset #6-ranked Kentucky. Let’s study their Rotation 6 and see what we can learn:
The alignment that UGA uses is probably the most common alignment among NCAA teams. UGA has passing subs in for their back row opposite and outside hitters, and they hide their front row outside in serve receive. Both their front row outside and middle attackers are stacked to the left side of the court. Many NCAA teams use this alignment to either hide a weak passing outside hitter in serve receive, or to allow her to just focus on attacking. Even though the outside and middle attackers won’t pass (except to help with short serves or balls off the tape), UGA still has them lined up fairly deep. This is a detail we’ve seen from all of the teams we’ve studied: keep attackers off the net in serve receive, even if they aren’t passing, to allow for better attacking entries.
Let’s roll the video:
We see UGA rely on the middle and outside attackers, although their setter does score on an attack herself. Your setter training should focus primarily on her ability to set the ball, but spending some time every now and then to help her add an offensive wrinkle is a nice bonus. UGA also adds a some variety to their middle attack. Their middle primarily runs a Slide all the way to the antenna, but in one play, as the setter moves forward, she switches to a “Back-2” set in the middle. It’s hard to set the Slide from far away, so it’s a good idea to have an audible call to keep your middle involved when the pass takes the setter forward.
Let’s look at how Illinois handled Rotation 6 in the 2018 NCAA Final Four:
We see some significant variation here. Their base alignment looks a lot like UGA’s:
But instead of running their middle behind the setter on a Slide, they keep her in front to hit a Quick. As we’ve discussed previously, this is the most significant offensive decision coaches have to make in their setter-front rotations. Middles have different strengths and weaknesses. Some are better hitting Slides and some are better hitting Quicks. In general, a team is easy to defend when both hitters stay in front of the setter, because all 3 blockers can stack over to that side of the court. So most NCAA teams prefer to have the Slide as an option. However, if that middle is significantly stronger hitting a Quick than she is hitting a Slide, than it may still be worth it to keep her in front of the setter.
We also see Illinois occasionally use a different alignment:
We rarely see NCAA teams line up like this! They split their attackers, with no outside hitter on the left side of the court. If you watch the video again, you see the middle actually hit on the left, and the outside (now lined up on the right) hits on the right. This allows Illinois to still spread the court with attackers hitting on the left and right sides, which is the effect that teams get when they run the middle on a Slide.
This variation is uncommon in the NCAA, because middles tend to be specialized at only hitting middle attacks, and often aren’t effective hitting on the outside. Illinois has versatile players (another reminder to train your players to be strong across all fundamental areas of the game!), so they can be versatile tactically.
Finally, let’s study one of the most exciting matches of the 2019 regular season. On November 20, Baylor beat Texas 3-2 in a matchup of the top-2 teams (by NCAA RPI ranking) in the country. Both teams used similar strategies in Rotation 6, so let’s look at what they did:
Both teams use the same alignment. Their middle is stacked on the left side of the court, with the front row outside pulled back to pass. Whereas UGA had a passing sub in for their back row outside and pushed the front row outside out of serve receive, Texas and Baylor have the front row outside pass and leave the back row outside in the game, but not to pass. Instead, they will utilize her as part of the offense.
Texas uses their outside to attack out of zone 1 in the back row, what we often call a, “D-ball.” This allows them to spread the court with attackers on the outside, middle, and back. Not many players in college are able to attack effectively out of the back row, but Texas is making it work.
Like Texas, Baylor uses their back row outside to hit the D-ball. They have the front row outside pulled back in serve receive to hit on the outside, and their middle stays in front of their setter to hit a Quick.
All four of these teams use similar principles, but different methods. Think about what the strengths and weaknesses of your players are, and how to tailor your rotations to best match those strengths and weaknesses. A Slide spreads the opponent’s block out and makes your team hard to defend, but do you have a middle that can score on it? Texas and Baylor are attacking effectively out of the back row, but do you have the athletes capable of doing so on your team? Also, as a coach, we must balance what our players are capable of doing right now, with what they might be able to learn in the future. So play to your current strengths and weaknesses, but keep in mind what they might be able to learn by the end of the season.
Don’t imitate what a team is doing just because they are a top NCAA or National Team, but instead understand why they are using that tactic and see if it applies to your team. Above all, this is the common thread in every article of this series.