Anatomy of volleyball

Tom Crilley

Bump. Set. Spike.

That’s how the majority of people view volleyball, and they’re mostly right. It’s volleyball in its simplest structure, but that’s just what the players learn in middle school. It’s the surface of a sport that goes deeper.

Nothing in volleyball is random. Plays are planned, and moves are predetermined. Certain players attack, certain players dig and certain players set up the kill.

Once a ball is sent over the net, the receiving team has three hits to get the ball back to the other side.

A dig, or the bump, is the defense of an attack from the opposing team. This is a major part of senior libero Kristen Barr’s role on the team. She ranks fourth on the school’s all-time digs list. Barr said there are many different ways to perform a successful dig.

“A dig is what happens when the other team hits the ball at us,” she said. “We use our forearms or our hands to get the ball high into the air so we can then transition and get a kill. If a ball hit your foot, that would count as a dig as long as it didn’t hit the ground. If you slide your hand on the floor and the ball hits your hand and bounces, that’s called a pancake.”

Digs are understated in their importance, as most of the focus is usually on having a strong scoring offense, but they play a crucial role in every game.

“I think digging can spark a team,” Barr said. “It’s one of those things where it’s disheartening (for the other team) when we dig a ball. If we’re just constantly digging, the other team’s frustrated like ‘I can’t get a kill, and I can’t put a ball down.’”

A set follows a dig. The setters will try to position the ball perfectly in the air for the hitters, who will in turn try to score with a kill.

Kills are a part of the attack game, which is essentially the object of volleyball. A kill is any ball that’s hit that touches the floor on the other side of the net. Points can come from blocks, service aces, and errors, but a large majority come from kills. Ideally, teams would like to score around 16 points a game from kills.

Sophomore middle blocker Meredith Paskert is one of the Flashes’ leading hitters this season with 268 kills. She said there are different ways to go about attacking the net.

“A kill is what most nonvolleyball players call a spike,” Paskert said. “It can either be a tip when the defense isn’t ready because they’re ready for you to hit it hard at them, or a kill could be a hit straight to the ground where the defense can’t get a hand on it. It’s a last-minute decision, but you kind of have a plan in the back of your mind.”

Barr said having an attack game that’s on fire is another area of the game that can spark a team.

“If we’re just hitting, we’re scoring and we’re going after it,” she said. “Teams get frustrated.”

Blocking seems pretty standard, but there’s a science behind them, too.

When the opposing team is getting ready to attack, two blockers usually jump up at the net in front of the hitter to try to defend the ball. If successful, the ball won’t make it over the net, and the defenders will score a point for their team.

The Flashes are strong in that area of the game, as they’re ranked 52nd of 328 teams in the country in blocking. Paskert said it’s more satisfying to get a block than a kill.

“They’re both very satisfying, but for me it’s blocking because I get more kills than blocks,” she said. “When I get a solid block it’s exciting.”

Barr said a successful block takes away from the hitter. It can affect the other players’ mentality and focus.

“It’s like, ‘You can’t get past me,’” Barr said. “And I love blocking, too, because it saves me from trying to run after a ball.”

The basics of volleyball may lie within the sport’s three-phase cliché, but there’s a science behind it all.

“People always think volleyball is just bump, set and spike like it’s so easy,” Barr said. “Go play. Let me see you play.”

Contact Tom Crilley at [email protected].