Most of the attacks in a volleyball match involve a hitter going toward the net, which allows the blockers to set up, kind of like a defender taking a charge in basketball.
Then there's the slide play. The slide play is not like that.
On a slide, the player runs behind the setter and moves more parallel with the net. That means the blockers have to move, too, and don't have as much time to set up defensively.
This quick-tempo play has a higher degree of difficulty than others but can be a difference-maker. Stanford coach Kevin Hambly thinks the slide is the most effective play in volleyball.
“It’s hard to defend,” Hambly said.
We spoke with Hambly, Stanford freshman middle Holly Campbell, Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield and the Badgers’ All-American middle Dana Rettke about what makes the slide play so devastating. Here's a breakdown of how the slide works and what we learned.
What the slide looks like
Watch this slide attack from Rettke. Pay close attention about six seconds in when Rettke already starts her movement toward the pin. This attack is so quick, her connection with setter Sydney Hilley has to be perfect, and it is.
Also, if you pause at seven seconds when Hilley is about to set the ball, you’ll notice an attacker in the middle of the court. That forces two blockers to stay put, giving Rettke a one-on-one opportunity. This play takes a lot of practice to perfect and Wisconsin is the perfect example of how to run it.
And here’s one from Campbell in this compilation.
This trio was an offensive powerhouse for @StanfordWVB tonight. 💪🏼— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) September 27, 2018
Kathryn Plummer (17 kills), Holly Campbell (14 kills) and Meghan McClure (12 kills) led the Card to a .316 hitting percentage and a 3-0 win over UCLA.#Pac12VB pic.twitter.com/HOd8OYeNMD
Keys to the slide
Like in any volleyball play, it starts with the first pass. This probably couldn’t be more true for the middle and even more true for the slide.
The set to the middle is often the quickest attack for a team, which can make it more difficult to defend. The slide is a longer play than a normal set to the middle, but the pass has to be in a great place that gives the setter plenty of time to get under the ball and the ability to distribute to multiple hitters.
This also means communication between the setter and the middle must be top-notch.
“That set for any setter is very difficult since it is behind them and is at a faster tempo,” Rettke said, adding that with her being 6-foot-8, she has to give more feedback to setter Sydney Hilley to make sure the set is high.
At Stanford, one of Hambly’s top priorities this year has been getting freshman Holly Campbell to hit the ball to multiple areas of the court, which is what coaches call “hitting it range.” Lucky for Stanford, it has Jenna Gray at setter who has had plenty of experience with multiple middles with different skill sets.
“She's just so much more experienced,” Campbell said. “She can kind of tell me if I'm late or early or in the right spot or not.”
"Both in action and in words, [Jenna Gray] says and does what the team needs to push us toward winning," @StanfordWVB coach Kevin Hambly said. "There's times when she'll get them laughing, and there's times when she'll get on them.#NCAAVBhttps://t.co/izdrLVTVAf— NCAA Volleyball (@NCAAVolleyball) November 3, 2018
What makes a great slide player
Hambly doesn’t see a lot of teams in club run the slide, however he found a recruit in Campbell that at least could run it. From the first moment she got to Stanford, Hambly had her working at a faster tempo and trying to put it on different parts of the court — hitting it with range.
Rettke can do that, which has helped her to become the nation’s leader in hitting percentage (.430).
“She can go from down the sideline and all the way around to sharp angles. She's able to hit it high, she's able to shorten her arm swing — sometimes you have to get on the ball a little bit quicker,” Sheffield said. “She's able to do that and I think really good slide attackers are able to do all those things.”
One thing that makes Rettke one of the best slide attackers in the game is being able to diagnose what’s open on the court while she’s running the play. That's an elite quality for a player.
"You watch the ball to see if your timing is right," she said. "Then I take a quick look at the block to see how many blockers there are, where they are and what they’re trying to take away. I kind of do all that in a split second and make my decision from there.”
Here’s an example of Rettke against Minnesota. She notices she is in front of the ball and the blockers are also in front of the ball, so she brings it back cross-court.
Nailed it 🔨 pic.twitter.com/sOfdXnK2Kb— Wisconsin Volleyball (@BadgerVB) November 1, 2018
Why a slide is tough to defend
The speed of the play, the mystery of where the ball will actually be hit and the parallel movement of the hitter are what make this play a killer to defend.
Stanford’s most well-known player is 2017 AVCA player of the year Kathryn Plummer. As much as defenses will key on her, getting Campbell and Stanford’s other middle Tami Alade to develop the slide attack can open up defenses for Plummer and the rest of the Cardinal.
Campbell said that if she is a consistent slide attacker, Plummer will have less blockers to hit against. That should open up the entire offense.
When asked how he teaches defending the slide, Hambly said his left-front blockers are vital. Teaching them how to predict and read where the ball is going is one of the more difficult tasks. For his middles, Hambly stresses quickly reading where the ball is going and getting the hands over the net.
Either way — running the play well or defending the slide — it can be the make or break point for a great team.
“It’s really, really important,” Hambly said."