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Michella Chester | NCAA.com | December 1, 2023

The college volleyball rotation, explained

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So you're watching volleyball, and you get it, the six players on the court rotate every once in a while after a point and before a serve. But, why? Where? In what order? Where can they go after they rotate? Here is everything you need to know to understand the college volleyball rotation. 

First, when and why does this happen?

A rotation occurs after every sideout, which is when the receiving team gains the right to serve by winning a rally. So basically, if you are the receiving team, and you win the point, or the serving team commits an unforced error, the players are required to rotate and the serve is switched. The new serving team will rotate clockwise one spot. The purpose of this is to rotate all the players through the serving position. 

If you continue winning points, you stay in position. 

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The rotation order

The rotation order is determined by the starting lineup and must be maintained throughout the set, per the NCAA rulebook. To break it down: six players are on the court, three are front-row players and three are back-row players. The positions are named by their place on the court, but these position are not to be confused with the position they play such as setter, middle blocker, outside hitter, opposite or libero. The locations are the positions where you stand before the ball is served. It is left front, middle front, right front, and left back, middle back and right back. Each player must start in one of those specific locations. Picture it just like you think. Three in the front, three in the back. One at left front, one at left back, etc. 

When the ball is served by your team, or the opposition, every player must be in the correct rotational position. 

OK, so that makes sense. So then why, when you're watching volleyball, are they never actually standing in the perfect three in front of three position when receiving the serve? They look all scattered in the middle. Keep reading. 

The overlap 

When a player leaves that position before the ball is served, or is in the wrong position in relation to certain teammates, it is called an overlap. Well, teams usually have ways of moving out of the perfect three in front of three players position when receiving the serve, while still complying with the rules and avoiding the overlap. 

Certain positions on the court need to be in front of or to the left of other players in order to avoid an overlap. For example, the middle front player has to be in front of the middle back player, to the right of the left front and to the left of the right front. As long as she is in a T-shape in relation to those three players, she is in right rotation spot. So they don't have to be perfectly lined up how you would picture it, they just have to be in the right place in relation to those teammates. Here is another example. The left back position needs to be behind the left front, and to the left of the middle back. This one is an "L" shape. 

Per the NCAA volleyball rule book: "In the front or back row, the right-side player must have at least part of one foot closer to the right sideline than the feet of the middle player in the corresponding row, and the left-side player must have at least part of one foot closer to the left sideline than the feet of the middle player in the corresponding row. Each front-row player must have at least part of one foot closer to the center line than the feet of the corresponding back-row player." 

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Basically, many different formations can be used when receiving serve as long as those rules are followed. If they fail to follow the rules, they are called for an overlap and the other team is awarded a point. 

Do you have to stay in that position the whole time? 

Before the serve is put into play, you must be in that spot. After the ball is served, you are free to move. There are a few rules though. If you rotate to a back court position, you cannot attack the ball in front of the attack line. Back-row players, with the exception of the libero, can attack the ball as long as they take off for their jump behind the 10-foot line. 

So, if you're a middle blocker, for instance, and you are rotated to the left front position, you can move to the middle front position after the serve is put into play. 

Who is normally in these positions? 

We just threw out some positions on the court such as left front, middle back, right front, etc. But these aren't the positions that you're used to hearing. This is where the actual positions play in those court locations.  

The two middle blockers will start at the middle front and middle back. The setter is in the left back, and the opposite hitter is in the right front position. The other two are outside hitters, typically. When an outside hitter goes back to serve, the other outside hitter rotates from the back row to the front. The front should always have an outside hitter, middle blocker and either a setter or opposite hitter. 

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