“We have to win the serve and pass game.” You can be certain that every Husker volleyball player that has played for John Cook has heard that phrase countless times. He believes, as do plenty of other coaches, that serve and pass are the two most important aspects of the rally-score game.
Rally-score volleyball is a fast paced game with a point available on each rally. The team that can put itself in the best position to win those points most often is the one that’s going to win, and that starts with either a serve or a pass. They’re sort of the building blocks of points.
Let’s start with the serve. Missing one is an automatic point the other way so that’s to be avoided, but not at the expense of serving aggressively. Good teams are able to be low-error while remaining aggressive with their serve. Aces are of course nice, but the most common advantage of tough serving is getting an opponent “out of system.”
You hear that term a lot in volleyball. A team is out of system when the pass to the setter is not on target. This usually means the pass is so far off the net the setter either has to run and try to put up a hittable ball – setters are trained to put the ball nice and high so the hitter has time to get there – or another player, usually the libero, has to step in and set. Most of the time when a team is out of system, it is setting a high ball – tempo two, the slowest tempo in the game of volleyball – to the outside pin hitter. Depending on which side of the court the bad pass is on, either the outside pin hitter or the right-side pin hitter will be the one to get the ball.
That predictability is a big advantage defensively. For the tough-serving team that can force teams out of system often, it will know that the set is probably going to go to the outside and it will be a super high set, which allows the blockers to get there and put up a solid block.
The importance of passing then becomes being able to stay in system. The team that can take tough serves and swings from the opponent and turn them into in-system, settable balls will be tough to defeat. Scoring out-of-system points is hard, but the odds go way up when a team gets the pass to the setter it wants. So far this season Nebraska is scoring a point 78 percent of the time off a perfect pass; nearly eight out of every 10 perfect passes has turned into a kill for the Huskers in 2017.
That’s why Nebraska spends about two-thirds of every practice working on serve and pass through a variety of drills. The players that can do both best will be on the floor. Coach Cook often makes playing-time decisions based on a player’s ability to serve and pass.
Everything in volleyball starts with one or the other. Great teams are great at both.
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