Temple Volleyball embraces new NCAA rule change

The NCAA approved a rule change on Feb. 25 that sparked controversy, but Temple Volleyball is optimistic about the change.

The NCAA proposed allowing double contacts in Women’s Volleyball on Jan. 5 and the rule change was approved on Feb. 20. LILLIAN PRIETO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Lexi Yoza has played setter the same way for almost her entire life. The freshman faced some of the best players in the country during her high school years, racking up more than 1,200 assists in three years at Notre Dame Preparatory High School in Scottsdale, Arizona.  

The structure was rigid — she had to learn to get the ball to her hitters as fast as possible while keeping her hands in the precise position to stay within the double-contact rule. 

Now, Yoza and every setter in the country have one less thing to worry about. 

The NCAA proposed allowing double contacts in Women’s Volleyball on Jan. 5 and the rule change was approved on Feb. 20. Players are now allowed to contact the ball more than once with any part of the body in a single attempt on a team’s second contact when the ball is played to a teammate.

The NCAA clarified that if there is a double contact on the team’s second contact, where the ball is played over the net, that is still considered a fault. The other team would gain the point, ensuring the team commiting the double contact still gains no advantage.

“It makes our position a lot more fun,” Yoza said. “It gives us a lot more leeway to do different things and do more fun things with the ball. I think a lot of people are upset that it’s taking away from the skill of a setter. I don’t think it is, I think our skill set is still definitely very important to a setter.”

Before the rule change, play immediately ended if a double contact was called, resulting in a point for the opposing team. Now, the pace of the game will increase and the rule change will reduce the referee’s position in matches.

The change will undoubtedly alter how the sport is played, and many are on the fence about whether or not the move will ultimately be a positive one.

Setters across the nation have taken to social media to voice their frustration with the change. Many have complained the hard work they put into learning how to properly set is no longer useful and their skill is losing its significance. 

Temple Volleyball feels the opposite. 

The Owls see no disadvantages arising from the change because double contacts only negatively affect the team that commits the violation. Temple head coach Linda Hampton-Keith feels the rule change only makes the game more entertaining for everyone involved.

“I’m excited about it,” Hampton-Keith said. “There’s no advantage to a bad set, so if you can make something of it then great. It allows other people to step in and make plays that they maybe otherwise wouldn’t have made because they were nervous about being called. It just makes the game better, it extends the rallies and I’m all for it.” 

The Owls are coming off their best season since 2017 and are using the upcoming spring season to adjust to the rule change. Temple hopes to improve its offense by setting up an attack every time the ball is on its side of the court. Knowing how to execute strong attacks on out-of-system plays will allow them to see more success in the fall.  

The biggest adjustment is players using their hands, which previously would have cost the team a point. The change can be uncomfortable for non-setters since it’s a foreign concept. 

Hampton-Keith expressed to her athletes that they need to start finding the confidence to set the ball, and she is implementing drills for players to adjust to the change, she said. 

“‘We said [to the team] ‘Hey, use your hands, chuck it up there,” Hampton-Keith said. “There’s no doubles anymore. So let’s get used to using our hands.’ Even in a situation where the ball doesn’t come out clean, that still placement is sometimes often better than using our platform. The goal is like, ‘Hey, every once in a while, things get a little chaotic and the ball doesn’t come out clean. So what?’” 

Although setters no longer have to worry about the double contact rule, the violation rarely happens in Division I volleyball. There were only 8,300 ball-handling errors across all 334 Division I teams last season, which is an average of just 24 per team. The three setters who saw playing time for the Owls in 2023 — Yoza, Ava Blascziek and Patrycja Zielinska — each had less than 10 ball-handling errors. 

The NCAA’s biggest fear was the setter’s role being taken away and their work on the court being diminished. 

However, the role of a setter remains the same: set up an aggressive offense. The most effective way to do that is to consistently get the ball to the best position for an attacker. 

“[A concern was] that it would have coaches stop training the skill,” said Lyndsey Oates, the women’s volleyball rules committee chair. “We don’t think that will be the case. There’s still no advantage to setting a double contact, so you’re going to still want your setter to set a good clean ball. That’s some of the pushback we’re hearing and we certainly discussed that of ‘Will it allow the game to turn ugly?’”

Serving the ball to the setter is a strategy that teams occasionally use to force opponents out of their system, sometimes resulting in teams sending a ball over the net that is easy to receive. Now, if the setter can’t get the second contact there are more options to get the ball in a place where an attacker can make a powerful play.  

The game’s intensity could increase because the rule change expands teams’ offensive options. Offenses could fire off more attacks than in previous seasons without as much concern if the setter does not provide a clean pass.

“The biggest change honestly isn’t with setters themselves but it’s with everybody else,” Blascziek said. “It’s training them, teaching them, ‘Hey you don’t have to take this with your platform anymore. It can look ugly, I don’t care, just set it high.’ I think that’s what probably a lot of teams are working on right now is, how can we be in system no matter who’s taking that ball?”

Officials have debated how to determine the specifics of a double contact in the past, which delayed the new rule. The game’s speed makes it difficult for refs to make consistent calls of the violation.

The NCAA’s 2022 and 2023 Women’s Volleyball Rules Book has a section on ball handling directive guidelines, laying out the goals of the rule. The double contact rule is one of the hardest rules to call in volleyball because there is no specific body, ball position or playing technique that will immediately result in a double contact violation. The rule change eliminates a referee having to make any judgment calls.

The hope is for the rule change to add the possibility of new plays, ultimately elevating the sport. Teams could create different sets on the court that are harder to defend, which is what Temple is looking to do this spring season to help get acclimated to the rule change. 

“I think the less rules the better,” Blascziek said. “The more you let us play the better, the more you let us create and innovate the better. Rallies are gonna go longer, people are gonna be more in system, people are gonna be hitting harder. I just don’t get why people would be upset about that.”

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