I have yet to see all the top collegiate teams play this season. I have, however, seen most of the higher-ranked squads. Based on my living room viewing, Nebraska is developing an offense that will be a problem for opponents to defend and will force a change in blocking and defensive tactics for opposing teams. Nebraska’s system is a work in progress, but I love the foundational principles. They are running a system that I wish more teams on the women’s side of the game would embrace.
Nebraska attacks the middle one-third of the court consistently better than any team I have seen. Most teams emphasize their left-side attack as the priority. A good left-side attack is essential. Without question, Nebraska also attacks from the left antenna. But, their middle attack (front and back row) compliments their left-side and right-side attack and makes all the points of attack difficult to defend.
In no particular order of importance, because each factor plays an equal part in this offense, are observations about the Husker offense.
The top point scorers are on the court for all six rotations. So many teams take point scorers off the floor in the backrow. Granted, at times, passing and defensive abilities are a decisive factor that motivates substitutions. As talented as Nebraska is with their front-row attack, the continuous threat of a terminating backrow attack makes life difficult for the opposing blockers and defenders.
They have the threat of a backrow attack in five of the six rotations. It is a fundamental concept that if you have four or five attackers going against three blockers, the advantage goes to the offense. With the primary backrow attackers playing the L-1 (Murray) and Opposite (Beason) positions, they are in the front row simultaneously in only one rotation. Hence, the threat of attack from the backrow from the middle-back or right-back is non-stop.
Their pipe (bic) attack is implemented at a fast tempo. So many teams will set the pipe when the pass/dig takes the setter out of system. Doing so facilitates a higher set, which is easier to defend (unless you have Gamova on your team). Nebraska runs their backrow attack, mostly when in-system, at a fast tempo (under 1.0 seconds for the pipe). In the video below, notice the timing with Beeson attacking as she is on a 2.5-step tempo. Of equal importance, the outside blockers are hesitant to assist in blocking the pipe attack.
They always have the threat of attack at both antennas. In two-hitter rotations, they have an effective slide attack with Jackson, combined with the pipe attack with Beason. When the middle hitter stays in front of the setter in rotations 4-6, the opposite hitter (Beason) can attack out of the right back. This option forces blockers to defend from antenna to antenna, creating open net space for the pipe attack.
They incorporate a conservative tempo for the left-side set. I see many teams setting a faster tempo for the left-side attacker than Nebraska. However, minus the threat of a consistent middle attack, the blockers can game plan and play percentages to release early to block the left-side attack regardless of the set tempo. But, when an offense, such as Nebraska’s, incorporates the quick middle and pipe attack, the right-side and middle blockers are challenged to pay attention to the attack out of the middle and still get to the outside to form a good block. The fast tempo for the pipe set that Nebraska runs places a lot of pressure on the RF blocker.
Nebraska passes well enough to put all of the above in play. Some teams have the physical talent to incorporate what Nebraska is doing with their offense. However, their level of ball control on serve-receive, coupled with taking attackers out in the backrow, puts a damper on available options. Nebraska has two good passers (Rodriguez and Murray) on the floor for six rotations, with Choboy coming in the backrow for three rotations. Combined, these three keep the offense in-system much of the time.
How will defending Nebraska change the game?
Competing with what Nebraska is doing offensively will require some changes in defensive and serve tactics. Opposing outside blockers must become more comfortable and effective with blocking in the middle one-third of the court and then making block moves to the outside as needed. Blocking the pipe with only one blocker is not an effective plan. Currently, most teams do not run a fast-tempo pipe attack in their offensive system; consequently, their blockers do not practice defending the pipe attack in their practices. In a match environment, the outside blockers have not developed the quick reaction blocking habits and visual cues needed to see the pipe and react quickly to assist the middle blocker in defending against this attack.
Arie Selinger, former USA Women’s Coach, once stated, “The faster your offense is, the better your defense will become.” What Nebraska is doing offensively will force defenders to react faster and be more attuned to visual cues that might be a predictor of events. If coaches practice this tempo daily, with multiple attack options from both the frontrow and backrow, the positive impact, both offensively and defensively, will be significant.
Nebraska is a young group, and who knows how the season will unfold. As with most young teams, there might be some inconsistencies. However, developing an offense is a visionary process. When Doug Beal and Bill Neville were developing the two-passer system for the USA Men in advance of the 1984 Olympics, the positive results were not immediate. Nebraska is heading in a direction that will undoubtedly give opposing coaches some angst in defending their attack. I am anxious to watch their progress.