For the past twenty years the 6-2 offense has had a special place in Division 1 women’s volleyball, not unlike the Studebaker that sits out in the pasture that an uncle dreams of rebuilding every couple of years. But this year, several top teams including Florida, Stanford and Nebraska are cruising through the season toward the NCAA Championship with an offense that has inherent strengths and significant challenges.
The biggest strengths:
• Siding out with three front row attackers stresses an opponent, particularly when the opposing team relies on a commit-blocking scheme.
• If one or both setters are weak blockers a 6-2 offense offers the opportunity to substitute stronger net players.
• Because not many teams run a 6-2 offense, it requires more preparation by opponents.
• In developmental volleyball it allows more players to develop in the setter position.
The biggest challenges:
• Transition with a back row setter in all six rotations can be difficult, particularly when opponent’s attack out of the back row to zone 1.
• Offensive rhythm takes a hit because it is highly unlikely that both setters set with the same tempo and set location, and always transitioning with a back row setter requires exceptional ball handling in every rotation.
• Unless at least one of the setters attacks from the front row, a coach will use most of his substitutions getting his setters in and out of the match, eliminating tactical substitutions at critical points in a set.
• It’s hard enough to find one very strong setter, finding two is incrementally more difficult.
• In sets that go beyond 25 points, the team either ends up running a 5-1 offense or playing a 6-2 offense with a front row player who is not a strong attacker / blocker. In either case the team is not playing to its strength a the most critical time of the set.
Why do teams do it?
• Florida’s strongest attacker is also an outstanding setter. Junior POY candidate Kelly Murphy is a unique talent who has the ability to take over the match as a right side attacker and also has the potential to be an international setter. By running a 6-2 Coach Wise is trying to leverage the strengths of her most talented player.
• Nebraska’s two left handed opposites, 6’5 senior Lindsay Licht and 6’5 freshman Morgan Broekhuis, are an example of John Cook trying to exploit not only his talented right side attackers, but take advantage of the fact that most teams do not defend right side attack as well as they do left side attack. When the back row setter digs the ball either lefty is ready to attack out of system sets from the libero.
• In the mid-90s Stanford’s Lisa Sharpley and Carrie Wendell were not only strong setters but may have been the Cardinal’s best two all-around players on a team that featured several All American’s. Coach Shaw’s team could morph seamlessly between a 6-2 and 5-1 offense that required an opponent to be unusually alert if they hoped to compete.
• The rise of bunch blocking has reduced the attack percentage in the middle third of the court, encouraging teams to set faster to the pins. Four outside hitters seems like a better strategy than three to some coaches, particularly if they haven’t developed middle attackers that can hit the slide.
Note: For a high school coach this might be a legitimate observation. For a college coach to not recruit and develop athletes who have the potential to hit the slide, which has been the most successful attack in women’s volleyball for over thirty years is like conducting a symphony without drums . . . . or violins.
When teams shouldn’t run a 6-2?
• A weak blocking setter. Saying that your talented setter is a weak blocker is like saying that Philadelphia Phillies pitcher and Cy Young candidate, Roy Halladay, doesn’t hit many home runs. When coaches start talking about what they look for in a setter some of them begin with size and left handed attack. Nonsense. There are two overriding priorities with the setter position. Does she know how to lead and does she know how to win? If she doesn’t, then no system is going to make up for those deficiencies.
• Since I don’t have a great setter I’ll run a 6-2 with two average setters. Since you don’t have a great middle blocker would you play three?
• Well I’ve got two setters and the senior is almost as good as the sophomore plus her Dad is the athletic director. No comment
• There is a place for the 6-2 system in high school, college and international volleyball. (In particular I like the idea of a hybrid system that combines a 6-2 in serve receive and a 5-1 in transition with back row attack.) But if you are considering a traditional 6-2 offense, you might reexamine your reasons for doing so before you push off from shore. The benefits are usually obvious, but thar be dragons just beyond the horizon.
– Terry Pettit, author of Talent and the Secret Life of Teams @ www.terrypettit.com