What you can learn from watching college indoor

Dec. 15, 2014, 11:54 a.m. (ET)

Originally published in VolleyballUSA, Fall 2013 issue
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What you can learn from watching college indoor

A guide for viewers who want to improve their own games with Holly McPeak

College women's volleyball is here, and we thought it would be a good idea to create a mini viewer's manual so you can focus on things that can be learned from watching an NCAA match. We asked Holly McPeak to be our tour guide. She's done just about everything there is to do in volleyball. In college, she was the starting setting on UCLA's 1990 national championship team. As a beach pro, she won 72 tournaments - third all-time behind Misty May-Treanor (112) and Kerri Walsh Jennings (110* as of print) - and also won a bronze medal alongside Elaine Youngs at the 2004 Athens Olympics. She coaches and trains all levels of players and is a go-to source for pros looking to improve their games. And she also does color commentating for volleyball TV broadcasts.

So let's get into it.

Here, according to McPeak, are some key things to keep an eye on when watching college indoor. Remember, the more carefully you watch what great players and great teams do, the more you'll have a mental image of how you can improve your own game. 

Holly McPeak on the block
at the 2004 Olympics 

McPeak: "Let's start with a basic definition. In-system is a term used to describe a team's offense when the pass is perfect and the setter is able to run all of his or her offensive options. A team is out-of-system when the pass isn't perfect and a situation arises where the setter has limited options to get his or her hitters the ball or a player other than the setter has to set. Make a mental note of how to pass impacts a team's offense. Good passing is crucial for a team to run its best offense and gain an advantage against the opponent's block and defense. The ideal pass is just loopy enough for the setter to get her feet to the ball, but not so high that it slows the offense. It should be to the net, not too tight and between middle and right front. When passing breaks down, a team's offense becomes too predictable and the opponent is able to key on a certain player or tendency."

McPeak: "Hitting efficiency is measured by kills-errors divided by total attempts and it's one of the most important offensive stats in volleyball. There's a time to go for a kill and a time to just keep the ball in play, and this stat tells you a lot about how well the hitters are striking that balance. You'll notice that the best hitters make good decisions, and they also have all the shots and power swings. Hitters need to make sure they have more than just power. Line, angle, high hands and a roll shot are all important offensive options to have in you repertoire."

McPeak: "As you probably know, college-level teams use a variety of offenses and coaches usually choose an offensive tempo that best suits his/her players. Like I mentioned previously, passing is key. Teams that pass extremely well can run a high-speed offense and really put a lot of stress on the opponent's blockers by setting the ball so fast that the blockers can't get outside to close the block. I think a balanced offense is best. Around 35-40 percent of the balls go to the left-side hitters, but, depending on your personnel, it's nice to see 20-30 percent go to the quick or middle hitters and 30 percent go to the opposite or right sides."

McPeak: "The back-row attack used to be just an outlet play if the pass wasn't perfect, but now, at the higher levels of the game, it has become a legitimate in-system weapon. It may or may not be right for your juniors team, but it's a good idea to watch how it's executed by college players so you're ready to practice it if it becomes part of your team's offense."

McPeak: "Quick attack sets to your middle hitter are usually higher risk, but are an important part of the offense. Watch how quick attacks to the middle hitter hold the opposing MB in the middle of the court so the setter can isolate an outside hitter with one blocker or take advantage of a block in the middle that has a hole in it. I enjoy seeing a good setter and a middle hitter connecting with a quick offense on 3s, 1s, back 1s and slides. The chemistry between setters and their middle hitters is very important. Middle hitters have to work so hard in transition to make themselves available, and they need to trust that their setters will get them the ball in a good spot. Repetition and confidence play a big role in this relationship."

McPeak: "Defense varies from team to team, but most teams use two to three defenses to shut down opponents. Remember, the goal of the block is not always to block the ball down' it's equally important for blockers to funnel the ball toward their defensive players. This is a good thing to watch for. A stuff block gets more attention from the crowd, but a block that funnels the ball and leads to a dig is just as impressive. Some teams will rotate their setter so she is directly in back of the block and can easily pick up tips and make transition sets. Other teams will have their setters dig to the libero to set - or sometimes to the middle blocker. Teams usually follow a scouting report so their defense is set up to stop the other team's tendency."