Welcome to The Lo-Down, a new column from former Husker and All-American setter Lauren Cook. Each week she’ll give you an expert’s look at the sport of volleyball, explaining key concepts, strategies and schemes all with the goal of expanding fans’ understanding and enjoyment of the game.
If you have watched or listened to a volleyball broadcast you have probably heard the terms 6-2 and 5-1 mentioned at some point. These are two common alignments at the college level and today we’re going to look at what those terms mean, how it relates to personnel and the advantages and disadvantages of each alignment.
We’ll start with the 6-2. It’s a two-setter system and the setters are positioned opposite of each other in the rotation so a team always has a setter in the back row. Most teams will then sub out the front-row setter for another hitter, leaving the back-row setter to run to setting position at the net on each serve receive. Coaches use a 6-2 if they have two decent setters or if they have multiple hitters who should all be on the floor.
The 6-2 offers some advantages. One, a team will always have hitters blocking in the front row instead of a setter on three of the rotations. Two, a 6-2 team will also always have three hitters hitting in the front row, so it will never go down to two hitters like it would in a 5-1. This means a 6-2 team will have more hitting options in the front row all six rotations instead of having a setter in the front on three of six rotations.
There are of course some disadvantages, too. No two setters set the same, so the hitters have to adjust to a new setter every three rotations. Teams lose out on a back-row attack option from the right back because a setter is always in that position. Teams also lose out on the right-side attacker serving. Setters will always be the ones to serve when they enter the game.
Another concern is that the 6-2 wastes a lot of subs. If a team likes to rotate a lot of other players in and out of the game – defensive specialists for outside hitters, for example — then it could run low on subs. That’s why you see the 6-2 most often at the college level where teams are allowed 12 substitutions per set, as opposed to the six allowed at the international level.
A 5-1 is a one-setter system. This is what Nebraska currently runs. It means you have a setter who plays all the way around. Most coaches use a 5-1 if they have an extraordinary setter, if they have a setter who is tall enough to block or if they have a really good right-side attacker who can play defense in the back row and is also an attacking option out of the back.
The pros to a 5-1 are that teams have the same setter on the court all six rotations. Think of a setter as the quarterback on a football team. She is the leader if she is out there the entire time. A 5-1 team should also have more consistent setting because the hitters only have to hit off of one setter, which helps the hitters develop familiarity and rhythm. A 5-1 team doesn’t burn as many subs, and it should have more of a “flow” throughout the game. When all the subbing happens in a 6-2 sometimes it can mess with a team’s momentum. The 5-1 team also has the option to use the setter to attack. Setter dumps are very hard to defend because they happen so quickly and on the second hit instead of the third.
The cons to a 5-1 are that teams lose a right-side attacker three out of the six rotations. For example, if there is a bad pass then the opponent usually knows the only option the setter has to set is the outside attacker. That is easy to read for other teams when the setter is front row. Also, most setters aren’t the best blockers. They either aren’t tall enough or have setting on their mind so they aren’t as focused on the block.
Another con would be if your right-side attacker is having a bad game, there’s not a new right-side coming in to relieve that player and hopefully generate some different momentum every third rotation like there would be in the 6-2. Same thing goes for the setter. If she is having a bad day and you’re not in a 6-2, then the coach would have to individually sub in a different setter or a different right-side depending on the situation. Most of the time, coaches are hesitant to do that. They like sticking to what they know.
Coach John Cook is a big fan of the 5-1, which is why you will hardly ever see the Huskers run a 6-2.
Lauren joined Hail Varsity in 2017 as a contributing writer covering Nebraska Volleyball. Lauren played volleyball at UCLA in 2009 and then finished her collegiate volleyball career at the University of Nebraska from 2010-2012. After college, she played professional volleyball in Switzerland and Puerto Rico before making her way back to Lincoln. Lauren considers herself a wine connoisseur and a major “foodie” and she also loves to travel the world. Lauren and her husband, Jason, married in 2018.