When the high school volleyball season started in late August, the game was a little different.
The introduction of rally scoring meant that teams no longer needed to serve to score a point, which was the case in the old sideout scoring system. Now, a good defensive play counts as much on the scoreboard as a kill or an ace, and the penalty for a service error is a little harsher.
“(Feedback) has been somewhat mixed, but I’d say for the most part it has been very positive,” said Stacy Schroeder, Missouri State High School Activities Association assistant executive director. “They’ve liked the system; they have been pleased with the momentum that it can create.”
Hickman senior Brenna Schlader said she counts herself as one who thinks the change has been for the better. In addition to the fast-paced games rally scoring creates, she likes having a standard rule for high school, club and college volleyball.
“I think that we all pretty much like it,” she said. “I liked it in college, like watching the MU games; it was just a lot more fun to watch because it was so much faster.
“We’ve played it in club. It’s hard to (go) from that kind of scoring and come back (to sideout scoring). It’s just a totally different game.”
There are those who have been slower to embrace the new system. Rock Bridge coach Vicki Reimler said that after years of playing the old way, she hasn’t adjusted to rally scoring.
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“Personally, I don’t really like it,” she said. “And that could just be based on the fact that my team is struggling (6-12-3). I think that teams that are real clean and real crisp probably do very well in rally scoring.
“It seems like this year we’ve been particularly error prone, and I think that the rally scoring has hurt us.”
There is some question about whether rally scoring helps or hurts weaker teams.
On one hand, teams that commit too many errors seem doomed in rally scoring, as Reimler said. Still, overly aggressive teams can end up in trouble as well. Hickman coach Greg Gunn said he has noticed that rally scoring seems to keep games closer.
“If you serve aggressively and you miss serves, then you not only give away the ball, you give away points,” he said. “A sideout is even more important now because you not only get the ball, you also get a point. It tends to keep the games a little closer.”
Reimler and Gunn said their approach in practice hasn’t changed that much. Both emphasized the importance of hitting the ball over the net on serves, and Gunn said there was an added focus on ball control to prevent opponents from going on a run.
“It’s like apples and oranges,” he said. “It doesn’t change the game that much. It changes some aspects of it, and you get used to it.”
Weaker teams could find it increasingly difficult to pull upsets next year, though, when it might require three games to win a match instead of two.
In January, when the National Federation of State High School Associations announced plans to move to the rally scoring system, it also called for varsity dual matches to be best-of-5. States were given until the 2004-05 season to make the changes.
When it became apparent many Missouri schools were not interested in moving to the best-of-5 format, MSHSAA received permission to experiment with best-of-3 format for this season. Many states are encouraging the national federation to give states the option of deciding which format they prefer for next year.
Gunn said though he wouldn’t mind an extra chance to recover from one bad game, he believes the best-of-5 format could leave some players sleep-deprived.
“Close matches, where there are long rallies, if it goes to five games, that would make for a long night,” he said. “Girls got homework to do and families to get home to.”
Contrary to what many believe, shortening the time of play was not a foremost intention of the national federation when it decided to move to rally scoring. Schroeder said that there has been criticism from coaches and officials that games are taking longer to play.
“Time has been something that I’ve heard has been somewhat on both sides of the fence,” she said. “Some coaches have said matches are taking longer, some coaches have said that matches are going faster. So it’s hard to get a handle on where we are for sure at this point on the time factor that the rally scoring has brought in.”
Although Reimler said she has not been a fan of rally scoring, she said she feels matches are being finished in a shorter amount of time. She estimated Bruins matches were finishing in about 40 minutes.
Bruins junior Katie Payne agrees.
“I like it better because it makes the game go a little bit faster,” Payne said. “And it puts a lot more pressure on you because any mistake you make, it counts.”