So, in the comment section in one of my articles a couple weeks back, a discussion began about the Huskers’ serving. I thought I’d spend some time looking at their serving and explain some of what you might see in the course of a match.
The Huskers, and most volleyball teams, try for three different types of serves, a standing float, a jump float, and a jump top. Many coaches just refer to them that way. Going forward, I’ll use tempo 1 for a standing float, tempo 2 for a jump float, and tempo 3 for a jump top.
A float serve is preferred for a server who is standing. It’s also incredibly effective jump serve. The reason that a float serve is effective is because a volleyball is not a perfect sphere, it’s composed of 18 panels and as it moves through the air, that causes the ball to dance.
In most levels of volleyball, you’ll typically see a standing float. It’s easy, it’s accurate, it’s consistent. Elite collegiate volleyball sees much less of that. Generally, you’ll see the tempo 1 serve from well behind the baseline. It means you can hit it a lot harder. The ball moves more and it gets on you faster, making it much harder to pass.
Alexa Ethridge is the best example the Huskers have of this. You’ll notice that she initiates her server from WELL behind the baseline, nearly at the edge of the playable area, allowing her to drive that ball fast and deep and away from the net. The farther the serve-receive pass has to travel, the harder it is to run the offense.
Justine Wong-Orantes uses a more basic tempo 1. The advantage of her serve is that it drops in front of the three meter, or ten foot, line. That leads to passers having to move fast to pass, and often being in an unstable passing position. A server who can drop a serve short like that is invaluable to her coach, especially if she can mix it up on command.
This serve has the added advantage of moving the point of contact much higher. With players who are often 6’ plus, jumping and hitting the ball initiates the serve at a height that is generally above the height of the net, so the ball can be driven down harder. It moves more and gets on a passer faster than a tempo 1.
There are a lot of versions of this one that the Huskers use. Both of the Rolfzen twins use a jump float. Their approach originates off the back left side of the court, and they move to their right, but often serve back to the left. It moves away from the passer, making it hard to pinpoint.
Mary Pollmiller uses a more straightforward tempo 2. It’s usually 3-4 steps straight ahead, and it’s a soft, quick lift. This serve is not particularly deceptive, but it does get the ball on the passers quickly. A great tempo 2 server can also drop them short.
This is the most spectacular serve in a player’s arsenal, and even at the elite Division I level, you don’t see a lot of it. It’s high reward, but high risk as well. To hit it properly, it’s thrown with the serving hand with top spin. The server takes an approach that is very similar to an attacking approach.
When the server strikes the tempo 3, she is trying to get just a little of the outside of the ball as well. She wants to not only have that ball bite and drop, she wants it to trail away from the passer’s core. When a server mis-hits a tempo 3, it usually goes way out of bounds.
The only current Husker who uses a tempo 3 is Kelsey Robinson. She did not early in the season, relying on her tempo 2, but has used it with more consistency lately. Her serve often catches the net, which is hard to pass since it can do about anything out of the net, and she did put it in the first row against (I think) Indiana. Robo, like many tempo 3 servers, keeps a tempo 2 available when her tempo 3 is off.
The Huskers have had serving problems this year, but they’re getting better. While some of the serves appear, and frankly are, easier to pass than others, they’re not easy by any means. The key to this team, as we get very close to the post-season, will be to keep the serves in. Every missed serve is a free point for the other team.