The most popular player on the football field is the quarterback — the one who calls the shots and makes the big plays happen — yet on the volleyball court, it’s just the opposite.
Eyes are drawn to the 6-foot-tall hitters who put away kills with power and ease. Lost in the shuffle is the player who makes it all happen: the setter.
Aside from the disinterest in volleyball as a whole compared to football, it’s easy to understand why a setter is overlooked compared to their gridiron counterpart. Often times, a quarterback must scramble around or make pinpoint passes in order to be successful. A setter, for all intents and purposes, just needs to put a hittable ball in the air for their teammates in the front row to slam it down.
That’s the gist of it, and they’re asked to do all of this without being chased by a 300-pound behemoth trying to tackle them.
But while a setter — or almost any other position in any other sport, for that matter — is in less danger than a quarterback, it does not take away from their importance and value on the court. A volleyball coach decides how they will run their offense not based on the quality of talent in their hitter, but by their setter or setters.
The two most common offensive systems in volleyball are the 5-1 system, which uses five hitters and one setter for all six rotations, and the 6-2 system, which uses a total of six hitters and two different setters, depending on where they are in the rotation.
Both systems can be used on any team, so it’s up to the coach to decide which one will work best.
The 5-1 system
The most popular rotation among volleyball teams from the high school level to the U.S. Olympic team, a 5-1 system will create a more consistent set for a team’s offense since only one player will be doing the setting whether she is in the front or back row.
Aside from creating consistency with the serve for a team’s hitters, a 5-1 system also creates more consistency in leadership on the court. With one primary setter, one player is controlling the offense.
Hen Hud head coach Diane Swertfager opts for the 5-1 because senior setter Emily Barthelmes is “our smartest, most unassuming setter in our rich history,” which includes 12 section titles in the past 14 seasons.
The 6-2 system
When a team runs a 6-2 system, it uses whichever player is in the back row as its setter so that it will have six offensive options — an outside hitter, a middle hitter, a right-side hitter, a hitter from the back row, the libero or defensive specialist in the back row, and the setter from the back row.
A team will use one player as a setter when she is in the back row and another as the right-side hitter in the front row. The two play opposite of each other on the court so that one is always in the front row and the other is always in the back. Teams will usually opt for this system when they have multiple players who can hit and set with great success.
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The difference between silver and gold
John Jay head coach Tom Rizzotti led the Indians to six section finals in his previous 10 years before last year, but never came away with a title.
Armed with one of his most talented teams during his tenure last year, one more than capable of winning that elusive title, Rizzotti made the gutsy decision to change systems in the middle of the Section 1 tournament. Rizzotti moved then-junior Taylor McCarthy into the full-time right-side hitting role and kept then-senior Amanda Flayhan as the primary setter.
John Jay not only won its first section title under Rizzotti, but it also won a regional championship and berth in the state championships in Glens Falls.
“I felt like there was something we were missing (on the outside),” Rizzotti said earlier this year, admitting he was “ridiculously” nervous about making a significant change at such a crucial point in the year. “I think the results speak for (themselves) in terms of (McCarthy’s) capability as an outside hitter.”
Around the section
There are positives and negatives to take away from choosing to run either system. Teams may run the risk of inconsistent sets and communication issues with a 6-2 system, but it also allows a team to utilize every player on the court in an aggressive manner.
The 5-1 system may take away an offensive weapon, but it also means that a team likely has an exceptional setter who is also an on-the-court presence off the ball.
Mahopac head coach Jay Melville is running a 6-2 system for the first time, using senior Casey Link and freshman Carah Vitkus as setters. “We’ll see how that one goes,” he joked during the preseason.
Melville lost two 6-foot hitters to graduation in Alayne Felix and Niamh Dodd, who did the majority of their damage in the middle of the court, so now he is looking to run his offense more on the outsides of the court.
“We’re looking to run some faster sets because we’re not as tall,” Melville said. “It’s a different look for us. … With Carah and Casey in the front row, I can actually run a little out of the right side, too, which actually helps because it keeps the other teams a little more honest at the net and maybe that will open up my middles a little more.”