Frequently Asked Questions

I was clueless when I attended my first few K-State Volleyball matches. After you read the following, you may conclude that this is still the case! My apologies...

As a fan who's at every match with the NCAA rule book under my seat, I'm often asked about basic volleyball rules and strategies. Some of the basics are covered here. I don't for a minute believe I'm an expert. If anything is in error, please notify me.

The Internet newsgroup has an FAQ that gets into quite a bit more advanced information than is covered here.

Change happens...

  • As of fall 2008, the NCAA will use the term set instead of game. I'll use the new term through the rest of this FAQ.

  • As of fall 2008, sets one through four will go to a minimum of 25 points instead of 30. Set five, when needed, will still go to a minimum of 15 points.
  • Attack: An attack attempt is recorded any time a player attempts to strategically hit the ball into the opponents' court. The attack attempt results in 1) a kill, 2) an error or 3) the ball staying in play.

  • Assist: An assist is awarded to a player who passes, sets or digs a ball to a teammate, who attacks the ball for a kill. There are three outcomes of a ball being set: 1) an Assist, 2) an Assist Error or 3) Zero Assist (kill does not result).

  • Block: The block is a play by the defensive team in which one or more front row players jump with their arms straight up to direct an opponent's hit ball back onto their court. A successful block results in a point.

  • Dig: A dig is awarded when a player passes the ball that has been attacked by the opposition. A dig is awarded only when a player receives an attacked ball, and it is kept in play. Dig describes playing a hard, low ball. The player positions her forearms out and below the ball, to pass it to the setter. The dig is the first touch of the three allowed hits.

  • Double-Double: A double-double in volleyball stats means an individual performance in which a player accumulates a double-digit number total in two of five statistical categories: aces, kills, blocks, digs, and assists, during one match. Note that points is not included among the categories.

  • Fault: A fault is a violation of a rule. The result is that the opponents of the team that committed the fault get a point. A double fault means that opposing teams committed faults simultaneously. The result is a replay of the rally.

  • Joust: A joust occurs when players on both teams cause the ball to come to rest above the net because of simultaneous contact. A joust is not a fault. Play continues as though it never happened.

  • Kill: A kill is recorded when a player's attack is not returned by the opponents, or results in a blocking error. A point is awarded for a kill.

  • Lift: There is often controversy when a lift is called. In the NCAA's rule book under Playing the Ball, we learn, "The ball must be hit cleanly and not held (including lifted, pushed, carried, caught or thrown). Prolonged contact with the ball is a fault." In 2008, the NCAA instructed officials to be much more cautious in calling a lift (or second hit). They want only very clear violations to be called.

  • Match: Strictly speaking, you don't go to a volleyball game. You go to a match, which is anywhere from from three to five sets (enough for one team to have won three sets).

  • Match Point: If team A has won two sets and scores its 25th (or higher) point (or 14th or higher point in set five), and also has a 1-point (or greater) lead over the team B, it's at what's called match point, because a point scored by team A on the next serve wins the match for team A.

  • Rally: A rally begins with the first referee's whistle to authorize the serve, and ends with either referee's whistle or a point scored.

  • Service Ace: With K-State leading the nation in consecutive matches with one or more service aces, there has been more attention than usual to this statistical category. A service ace is a serve that results directly in a point. A service ace is awarded to a player: 1. If the serve strikes the opponent's court untouched, 2. If the serve is passed by the opponent but cannot be kept in play, 3. If the referee calls a violation on the receiver (i.e., lift, double hit), 4. If the receiving team is out of rotation (i.e., overlap).

  • Set: A set is a high arcing pass, either from the setter or someone else, that directs the ball to a front row player near the net.

  • Set Point: When team A scores its 25th (or higher) point in any set one through four, and also has a 1-point (or greater) lead over the team B, it's at what's called set point, because if team A scores a point on the next serve, it wins the set. (A two-point advantage is required for a win.) If team B scores the next point, play continues.

  • Volleyball World Wide has an excellent ten-page glossary of volleyball terms. It's a PDF file, so you'll need Adobe Acrobat Reader to look at it.

  • The NCAA has a glossary of common volleyball terms.
  • Line Judges
    There are two line judges, who stand at diagonal corners of the court. Their most important responsibility is to signal whether played balls have landed in bounds or out of bounds. The rules allow them to use either hand signals or flags to signal.

    1. Flag held toward the court means "in bounds." Team A that hit the ball scores, because the ball landed unreturned on team B's court.

    2. Flag held up means "out of bounds." Team A that hit it gives up a point to team B, because the ball wasn't returned to team B's court.

    3. If the official's hand touches the top of the flag handle, it means the receiving team, team B, touched the ball hit by team A before it went out of bounds. Because team B failed to return the ball, team A scores the point.

    The line judge also signals when a server has crossed the end court boundary while serving (which is a fault).

  • Second Referee
    The second referee stands at midcourt, in front of the scorer's bench. The second referee has numerous responsibilities with lineup sheets and substitutions. He or she also watches for various violations involving player position faults, play at the net, blocking, etc. If the second referee gives the basketball signal for traveling, it means a substitution is in progress.

  • First Referee
    The first referee stands on the ladder at midcourt, and has ultimate responsibility for conduct of the set. He or she whistles and signals to authorize each serve. He or she watches for violations involving player position faults, play at the net, blocking, etc. The first referee has yellow and red cards in his or her pocket to warn or expel a player or coach who has gotten into mischief of some sort. The first referee also watches the boundaries to determine whether a played ball landed in bounds or out of bounds, and whether or not a ball was touched before going out of bounds. The first referee may overrule a call by any other official.
  • Setter
    The setter generally has the second hit on the ball, in hopes of positioning it at just the right location and height for an outside hitter or middle blocker to deliver a kill and collect a point. One measure of a setter's performance is assists per set. An Assist is awarded whenever a player passes, sets or digs the ball to a teammate who attacks the ball for a kill.

  • Defensive Specialist
    The DS is a back row player. She tends to be a smaller, quicker player, and often is the one to pick up a kill attempt from the opponent (with a dig). For a defensive player or libero, digs per set is the important statistic.

  • Libero
    The libero (generally pronounced luh--BEAR--oh) is a defensive specialist, also. The position was picked up from international and Olympic play, and was just introduced in NCAA play in 2002. The libero may play the back row only. There are quite a few rules limiting what she can do, when and how she can substitute, etc. Technically, the libero is not substituted, but replaced. There must be a rally between replacements. Because of the special rules on replacement for a libero, she wears a uniform shirt contrasting in color with her teammates' uniforms. That is, she wears the away shirt if the team is wearing the home shirt. The libero is not allowed to block or attempt to block. Until 2004, the libero was not allowed to serve, but now may do so, with certain exceptions. (The College Volleyball Libero, Explained)

    The NCAA has a nice video that explains the libero position, which includes comments from actual college liberos.

  • Outside Hitter
    The OH is often the player that attempts the kill (a hit into the opponents' court that is not returned, resulting in a point). It's good to have an OH who can both hit hard and place the ball accurately to take advantage of opponents' weaknesses. The success of the OH is reported as hitting percentage, which in simple algebra is the total kills minus total errors, divided by total kill attempts.

  • Middle Blocker
    The MB ideally can move across the net in a hurry, then jump high and block a kill attempt back onto the opponents' court. A successful block (which lands on the opponents' court and is unreturned) results in a point. Blocks per set is a measure of the middle blocker's performance. Middle blockers also frequently deliver kills, since they're front row players who are in a position to do so. For example, All-American middle blocker Lauren Goehring was 10th in the nation in hitting percentage in her senior year. Senior MB Megan Farr is currently 3rd in the nation (in NCAA Division I) in hitting percentage for the season.
Playing the Ball
  • A team gets three hits to return the ball to the opponents' court. Returning the ball on the first or second hit is legal.

  • A receiving team often attempts to block a hit ball at the net, dumping it back in bounds on the opponents' court (and earning a point). One or more players at the net may attempt the block simultaneously. The tricky part for blockers is to avoid having the ball land at their feet on their own side of the net (or returning the ball out of bounds), thereby giving the opponents a point. An unsuccessful block attempt doesn't count against the receiving team's three touches allowed to return the ball.

  • Blocking a served ball is a fault (which results in a point for the opposition).

  • Generally, in playing a served or hit ball, the receiving team will take its allowed three touches. Often (but not always)... 1. The libero or defensive specialist (in the back row) will make first contact (the dig) and pass the ball to the setter. 2. The setter will try to position the ball high (and free of spin) to an outside hitter, who will 3. put the smack down on the opponent by attempting a kill. A kill means delivering an unreturnable ball, and a point for the team that made it. If the opponents return the ball in bounds, the fun starts over again.

  • If the team has a tall, versatile setter like Gabby Guerre or Stacey Spiegelberg, she may give the opponents a little surprise by dumping the ball on their court on the second touch. The setter is the quarterback, always on the lookout for an unguarded area that's good for either her or the outside hitter to take advantage of.

  • If the receiving team directs a ball out of bounds on the first or second touch, its players may run all over the place trying to hit it either back into their court or the opponents' court. For this they may run out of bounds, and even be on a chair or bleacher or wall, as long as a part of the player's body is on the court. (A player may not climb onto another player in order to play the ball.)

  • The ball may be legally hit with any body part... hand, head, elbow, foot... whatever is convenient. Contact of the ball only with a player's hair doesn't qualify as contact.

  • The ball must be cleanly hit. Prolonged contact (generally called a lift) is a fault (and a point for the opponents). This is very much a judgment call on the part of the first referee, so it's often controversial when a bad hit is called.

  • The ball may legally touch more than one body part simultaneously, but if it touches a player more than once before another player touches it, that is a fault (and a point for the opponents).

  • The ball may legally bounce off the net in the process of returning it to the opponent, but for a player to touch the net is a fault (and a point for the opponents). The ball may not touch the antennas on the net, and must be returned to the opponents' court between the two antennas.

  • The white boundary lines around the court are in bounds. Line judges seem to get mixed up on that.
Radio Coverage of the Cats
  • The Cats' matches are usually carried on KMAN 1350 AM in Manhattan. If, for example, there's a time conflict with football, the broadcast may be "Internet Only."

  • You can often listen via the Internet from the KMAN Web site.
Rotation Explained Rally Scoring
  • Rally scoring was adopted by the National Association of Girls and Women in Sport in 2001. In 2002, the NCAA began to publish its own rules (also based on rally scoring) for women's volleyball. As I understand it, rally scoring was adopted in college volleyball because it's used in the Olympics and international play. I've seen a lot of matches played each way, and I'm not sure that the scoring changes the stategies of the set that much. It seems to be here to stay, however.

  • Before rally scoring, all sets were played to 15 points, or the score beyond 15 when one team had a two-point advantage. Also, a team could only score when it served the ball. The team not serving attempted to get a kill (resulting in a side out), which meant that team then began to serve (and continue to serve as long as it scored points).

  • Every serve results in a score for one team or the other. Scoring is no longer limited to the team that served.

  • Again, three to five sets are played, until one team has won three sets.

  • Sets one through four are played to 25 points, or to the first score beyond 25 points that amounts to a two-point lead over the opponent. 25 - 23 is a winning score. 25 - 24 calls for at least one additional serve (and point for the leading team). 26 - 24 is a winning score.

  • Set five, if needed, is played to 15 points, or to the score beyond 15 points when one team has a two-point lead.

  • In 2001, the net serve rule was also changed. Now, if a served ball hits the net but crosses into the opponent's court, it is legally in play.
  • The NCAA's Women's Volleyball rules are online. (PDF) (order) Adobe Acrobat Reader will be needed for the PDF file. (The file is 136 pages long and 6.6 MB.)
Tutorials from the NCAA

When do the doors open?

  • For volleyball, the doors open one hour before first serve.
Learn more from these sites.

Several of the definitions above were swiped from the NCAA's 2008 Volleyball Statistician's Manual. References to rules were based on the NCAA's 2008 Women's Volleyball Rules and Interpretations. Information for purchase of NCAA publications can be found on my Publications page.

Here's a page with Volleyball Stat Definitions, from the AVCA.