How to Win One-on-One

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Penn State's Megan Courtney puts up a solo block against a Wisconsin slide in the 2013 national championship match.

Originally published in the December 1996 issue of Volleyball magazine, this article by 1990 AVCA Player of the Year and former national team middle blocker Bev Oden helps you stay confident when facing a solo blocking situation.

Solo blocking doesnt always have to be a losing battle. These tips will help put you on top.

It’s a scenario that occurs often at every level of volleyball, from juniors to intramurals to international ball.

The ball leaves the hands of the opposing setter and finds its way to the intended hitter. But something has gone wrong on your side of the net.

Maybe the middle blocker has been faked out. Maybe she decided to commit block on their quick setthat was always my favorite excuse. Whatever the reason, the outside blocker faces a hitter one-on-one.

Fear not. Solo blocking doesnt always have to be a losing battle for the blocker. Although the hitter has many more options against a single block, the blocker has a few options of her own.

One of the most important aspects of blocking one-on-one is knowing what youre up against. Study your opponents. As much as we hate to admit it, we all have tendencies. Pay attention to these clues. Does the hitter mainly go for line or cross court? What has she done in past matches, in the last game or even the past few points? Is her cross-court shot more difficult to dig than her line shot?

That last question leads me to the next consideration. How well do you know your own defense? If your strongest digger is in the left back, you may want to channel the ball in her direction, especially if youre unaware of the hitter’s tendencies. Blocking is not only about the uncoverable monster bock that lands even before the hitter’s feet hit the ground. Sometimes it’s wiser to force the hitter to play right into your game plan. Give her the shot your team is most prepared to depend. Another option is to go for the touch. Deflect the hit so it goes high and controlled into you backcourt. This way you create an easy dig and good transition opportunity. Both channeling and deflecting are great plays that are underappreciated. In the long run, they can be the difference between winning and losing.

With that in mind, let’s move on to that monster stuff block I mentioned earlier. The only way to get it is to take some risks. Take everything you know about your hitter and make an educated guess as to where she may hit. Take clues from her body position in relation to the position of the ball. If she’s too far outside the ball, she may have to hit cross court. Too far inside and she’s more likely to hit line. A tight ball puts the blocker in complete control. Just jump directly in front of the ball and get your hands as far over the net as possible, giving her no place to go.

Sometimes, the hitter will get a great set, and a hitter with good ball position puts the blocker at a disadvantage. At this point you may want to take one shoteither line or cross courtaway from the hitter. Once youve made the decision to take away a particular shot, stick with it. By this time youve considered the hitter’s tendencies, her body position, and the capability of your own defense. Trust your instincts. It’s nearly impossible for your team to dig behind a noncommittal block. If youre clearly taking away one shot, they can adjust behind you. If not, there’s too much guesswork, and the hitter is likely to score without having to do much.

Anticipate

The first step to a good block is anticipation. Watch the setter for clues to where shell set the ball, and pay attention to the eventual set. The set’s height, speed, and distance from the net are all important factors that help you decide how to block the attack.

Blocking line

Blocking the line is very simple but often misunderstood. It’s not just jumping right next to the antenna because the set isnt always where it should be. A good guideline is to line up so that the hitter’s hand is in the middle of your block. If she moves in, move with her. Lining up too far outside the hitter opens up most of the court and translates to disaster for your defense.

Blocking cross court

Cross-court blocking is a little different. On the left side, line up with your right hand on her hitting hand. That way you dont give up so much line that she can hit the ball outside your right arm and toward the middle of the court.

Spread blocking

Contrary to popular belief, outside hitters can also get faked out, leaving the middle blocker alone on an X play or on a high set to the middle of the court. Solo blocking in the middle offers even more options. In addition to being able to take the angle or the across-the-body shot, you may choose to spread block. If you have a hitter who never hits straight ahead, this may be the block of choice. By spreading your hands you can shut off both shots at the same time.

Spread blocking is risky because the hitter may be able to tool you or hit it off your head. This is very unpleasant and, more often than not, not retrievable by the defense. But spread blocking may also give you an impressive-looking block or a great touch that slows the ball down for your defense. If you get right in front of the hitter, she has to hit the ball one way or the other, but both choices lead to your wing diggers.

Keep them guessing

Taking away a particular shot does not have to be as obvious as some make it. You can play with the hitter’s mind to keep her guessing as to what shot you will take. Use your time well. Blockers often have more time to jump than they think. If you are up at the same time as the hitter, she can take her choice of shots. She may also be able to tool you if she sees you right away. To make sure this is not the case, wait a little longer than you usually do and penetrate the net as fast as you can. The hitter will have less time to make her decision. To really keep your hitter on her toes you can also show her that you are taking away one shot and then change in the air. Just make sure your penetration does not suffer because this move is very difficult to pull off correctly. Keep in mind if you take away a shot at the last minute, you should let your defense know beforehand what you plan to do. The hitter should be the only one in the dark.

Blocking a wide set

A set that floats wide or outside the antenna calls for a different blocking strategy than a standard set. Since the ball has to clear the net inside the antenna, the best thing is to seal the antenna. That means line up right next to it and dont leave any room for the ball to come through or ricochet off your arms and out of bounds. If you leave any space at all, you become a target for the tool.

Correct blocking form

All of these blocking methods are useless if you dont maintain good form. First, pay close attention to your arm position. Any time you go up for a block, make sure you penetrate right away. If your arms extend straight up instead of at an angle over the net, youll never block a ball straight down, and youll often get tooled.

When blocking on the outside, your hand position is critical. While youre in the air, make sure your outside arm and hand angles back into the court. Anything that hits this arm will be blocked in bounds. Your inside hand should extend straight over. Since this arm is farther inside the court, a blocked ball will naturally land in. Just make sure that neither arm is angled out of bounds.

With all these tools, youll be more than equipped to surprise some hitters next time you get out there. Experiment with it. Dont be afraid to make a few mistakes before you succeed. That is the only way you can get better.

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