Back in 2013 I attended the match between Pepperdine and Wisconsin at the former’s Malibu campus. As I mentioned on social media then, the away team actually used a 2-person serve receive most of the match. You can see a sample from one of the rotations below.
In this example you can see the two front row hitters (OH and MB) poised to take a short ball. The back row OPP is deep to support making line calls (and maybe to take a ball right to her). Meanwhile, the libero and back row OH split the court as the primary passers. The latter two were the passers in all rotations, even when that OH was front row. In one rotation, when Pepperdine had a hard topspin jump server going, they dropped the other OH in to make a 3-person serve receive. That was the only time they went away from the 2-person system, though.
To say using only two passers is unusual would be a major understatement. It was something popularized in the 1980s by the US men when Karch Kiraly and Bob Ctvrtlik/Aldis Berzins handled all the passing during their 1984 and 1988 Olympic gold medal runs. When topspin jump serves moved to the fore in the latter 80s, though, teams went away from 2-man reception. In 1998 I used it very successfully myself coaching a boy’s team to a gold medal in a tournament. I did so because I had two clearly dominant passers and the serving was not so tough. I can recall few if any other times I’ve seen it used over the years, however, with pretty good reason.
Kelly Sheffield, the then new Wisconsin coach, should get considerable credit for having the guts to go down this path (I actually coached against him when I was at Brown and we hosted his Albany squad in something like 2004). Since the 2-person formation is so rarely seen, he could easily have come up against considerable criticism. He potentially could even have faced opposition among his players. From what I saw, though, it worked quite well. His two passers were very solid. Just goes to show that sometimes taking old ideas down off the shelf and dusting them off can pay dividends.
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