We did a presentation in 2018 regarding many scenarios that could occur when a back row setter faces a front row blocker at the net, here’s a video that outlines all the decisions a referee has to consider during such plays.

Here’s a classic type of back row attack by the setter. It occurs about 12 seconds into the video by the team (Player #1) on the left. The judgment by the first referee is to first determine if the setter is back row (which she is) and then to determine whether the back row player “on or in front of the attack line…contact(ed) the ball completely above the height of the net and complete(d) an attack.” (Rule 9-5-4)

We talk a great deal about watching a back row setter in order to properly call an illegal attack or block, but as volleyball players become bigger, faster, and stronger, and as coaches implement more complex plays and systems, we need to be aware of this kind of back row attack as well.

In this video, a back row player violates Rule 9-5-5b by “attacking a ball which is completely above the height of the net while positioned in the air, having left the floor on or in front of the attack line or its out-of-bounds extension.”

This back row attack (also known as the “Pipe” or the “Bic”) is becoming more prevalent, even at the non-varsity levels.  The problem is that the R1 doesn’t have a line up card and may not immediately know if the attacker is front row or back row.  So, how do we get around that?  Here are some tips:

  1. The R2 does have a card, so if the R2 sees a violation then a discrete informal illegal attack signal can be given to the R1.  This is something that the R1 and R2 can pre-match on to determine exactly how to handle the situation.  Only if the R1 and R2 agree, the R2 may even whistle the violation if the R2’s discrete signal goes undetected by the R1.  Some may say, “Why is the R2 even watching for that?  Aren’t they supposed to be watching the net?”  Yes, the R2’s primary focus is on the net and center line.  As the R2 gets more experienced, hopefully they can maintain central focus at the net, but also (out of the corner of their eye) also be aware of these type of situations to help the R1.  Plus, if a coach questions a back row call/non-call, the R2 will be more credible to the coach if he/she has first-hand knowledge of the situation by seeing it out of the corner their eye and can provide an efficient explanation instead of saying “I don’t know, Coach…I didn’t see it.”
  2. It is acceptable (although it doesn’t look great) to have a delayed signal.  In other words, you see the attacker (on or over the attack line) attack the ball across the net.  Then, while the ball is being played by the other team (or even after it comes back over) is when you figure out that the attacker is a back row player.  You can whistle the play dead and signal an illegal back row attack late.  Even though it’s not desirable to do it this way, it’s still the correct call.
  3. Remember that the violation only is whistled when the attack is COMPLETED (see Rule 9-4-4).  So, if you see a back row player jump from on or above the attack line to attack a ball above the height of the net, make sure to hold your whistle until the ball has completely crossed the plane of the net or is legally blocked.  As an example of why you want to wait to whistle, let’s say the potential illegal attack occurs on the second contact.  The ball is attacked by the back row player in front of the attack line into the net and bounces back for a teammate to take over the net on a third contact.  That play would be legal since the potential back row attack was not officially COMPLETED.  The criteria of a back row player attacking a ball completely above the height of net while on or in front of the attack line were all check marked, but according to Rule 9-4-4, the last criteria of a completed attack was not met, so no violation has occurred.

Here are a couple of more examples:

Even though this attack went out of bounds, the actual violation was an illegal back row attack since that occurred once the ball crossed the plane of the net and before it landed out of bounds:

This one was harder to detect since this back row player got creative on a second contact, but it does check all the boxes of an illegal back row attack mentioned above: