The first category I’ll mention is the third-ball player: The Hitter. The job of the hitter is to score points. (Perhaps we should refer to them as scorers). The design of the game is that the first two contacts set up the third so that the third contact will result in a scored point. This category of player is the toughest for us to fill. Its just hard to find kids that can efficiently score against quality 5a opponents. (Finding hitters is not the problem. Finding scorers is) In 5a volleyball at hitter won’t be a scorer unless they have the ability to reach high above the 7’4” net and hit the ball hard on a sharp downward angle to the floor. In other words, scorers are high-flying tall kids.
There’s just no way around the fact that the game of volleyball rewards height, reach, and vertical lift. When we hold tryouts one of the first things we will do is measure how high a kid can reach when they jump. Their “touch” turns out to be a strong indication of their scoring potential, so much so, that I know that a kid that can touch 10’ will draw interest from college programs just because she can touch 10’. What do we look for in hitters? Highflying tall kids that we can train to be scorers. (And in 5a, tall means approaching 6’, and high flying means they touch well over 9’).
The next category is the first ball player- the digger/passer. Their first job is to prevent the ball from hitting the floor, and getting it instead to the setter. Because we can’t set or hit without a pass/dig we place a lot of emphasis on this first ball play. Unlike scorers, there is no need for this player to be tall. In fact, they usually aren’t. They need to be, fast, aggressive, agile, fearless and most importantly, good readers.
The thing about this category is that it gets really crowded. The good athlete that wanted to be a hitter but just isn’t tall enough will want to move to this category. Plus some of those tall third-ball hitters also develop into good first-ball players leaving less room for the first ball specialist. Thus the competition for the few spots left for this position becomes pretty tough.
The only category left is the second ball specialist: the Setter. The Setter is a position similar to the quarterback of a football team, only they have to play defense as well as offense. (Picture Peyton Manning having to play cornerback and defensive line when the team is not on offense). Like football’s quarterback, the setter runs the offense. And, just as in football, the offense usually works best with just one quarterback. And, just as in football, if you want to develop a really good offense you are going to have to find a “franchise” quarterback (one who is really good and will play for multiple years).
Along with running the offense, a good setter needs to be able to dig while in the back row, and block while in the front row (meaning that neither the fast-but-tiny kid, nor the big-but-slow kid are great options). They need good hands, good feet, and above all, a good head. There’s an awful lot that goes into the setting package. Like the Scorer, this is a really tough position to fill. Thankfully we only need one.
But that's the thing about the setting position is that we really only need one varsity setter. And once we find that franchise setter (if we find it) we may not need another for a while. Sure we need some backups (who would usually play on sub-varsity), but it doesn't take too many setters before we feel that we don't need any more.
In selecting players for our team we are looking for players to fill positions of need. We are looking for passers/diggers, for setters, and for scorers. Some kids just get caught in a category of player where the line ahead of them is simply too long. We just don’t need a dozen setters, or a ton of defensive specialists. But many of the kids that don’t make the team are kids that haven’t demonstrated that they are high flying enough to be a scorer, are not consistent enough with passing and digging to be a first ball specialist, and don’t have all the necessary package to be a franchise setter. In other words, if they aren’t passers, setters, or scorers, we have no category in which to put them.