Volleyball 101: A Guide to College Volleyball

Wes Kinard | The PhoenixThe Loyola women's volleyball team finished its 2021 season at 2nd place in the MVC.

With the Loyola women’s volleyball team’s successful 2021 season done and the men’s volleyball season just heating up, the Phoenix breaks down everything you need to know about college volleyball.

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The Loyola women’s volleyball team finished the 2021 regular season first in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) after going 14-4 in conference play and 22-10 overall. This was the first time the team clinched the MVC regular season title since joining the conference in 2013 and its first since 2002.

Despite the regular season victory, Loyola fell to in-state rival Illinois State University 3-2 in the MVC Championship game Nov. 27. The loss prevented the Ramblers’ from earning the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, as the winner of each conference’s championship game receives an automatic bid.

The men’s volleyball team also suffered a loss in its 2021 conference championship after falling to Lewis University in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) championship April 24. 

The Ramblers are back in action for the 2022 season with a 2-2 record after dropping both contests to No. 1 University of Hawaii Jan. 5 and 7 and defeating Saint Francis University Jan. 14 and New Jersey Institute of Technology Jan. 15.

Although Loyola will move to the Atlantic-10 (A-10) Conference in the 2022-2023 season, the men’s volleyball team will continue MIVA competition as Loyola’s new conference doesn’t host men’s volleyball. Meanwhile, the women’s volleyball will begin A-10 competition in the fall.

How does the championship work? 

The NCAA Tournament’s 64 teams are chosen through a selection process. Only 32 of those teams receive automatic qualification to compete, while the other 32 teams are selected on an at-large basis by the Division I Volleyball Committee.

At-large basis is when Division I teams that didn’t win their conference tournament are eligible to compete because they have impressed the selection committee. Teams can be selected based on notable players, skill and chemistry.

The winners of the first and second rounds will move onto the regional final and play each other in a series of single-elimination games. The last two teams remaining will play in the NCAA Championship.

Game Time

A volleyball game is structured in sets, with three set victories needed to win. A set is normally played to 25 points — however, a game must be won by at least two points. This means if the score is 24-25 at the end of the set, the set must continue until there is at least a two-point difference in scores.

If both teams have won two sets each by the end of the fourth set, a final fifth set will be played to determine the game’s winner. The fifth set is only played to 15 points, but requires the same two-point margin to complete the set. 

The first serve is determined by a coin toss. When serving the ball, the server must stand behind the service line, which is also the out of bounds line, but can move elsewhere after contact with the ball has been made. After the serve, each team can touch the ball three times when the ball crosses to their side of the net. 

During a game, players can’t touch the net at any time during play, and doing so will result in a foul. When a player commits a foul, a point is awarded to the other team and the opposing team gets to serve. 

Other common violations include double touch and illegal contact. A double touch occurs when a player touches the ball twice and an illegal contact is a prolonged touch, catch or lift. 

Each team is also awarded two timeouts in each set, with each lasting 30 seconds.


There are 12 players including substitutes on a volleyball team, but only six can be on the court at a time —generally but not always: the setter, two outside hitters, a right-side/opposite hitter, a middle blocker and a libero.  

The setter is responsible for positioning the ball so that teammates can easily hit the ball over the net onto the opposition’s floor, usually the second contact. The outside hitter is placed on the left side of the court and their job is to block and hit the ball over the net to score points. 

The opposite hitter-who is often a left-handed player on the team and is tasked with blocking and hitting on the right side of the net. Middle blockers, generally the tallest, are positioned in the middle of the net and are the biggest blockers and strongest hitters. 

Liberos —  wearing an opposite colored jersey — are the most defensive player on the court, tasked with receiving tough serves and strong hits. Only allowed to play in the back row, the libero can replace any player on the court, coming in and out of the game as needed.

The defensive or serving specialist is the player responsible for working together with the libero and generally subs in for a weaker defensive teammate or to serve.

Essential Statistics

Volleyball players are tracked by a wide array of statistics of which the most important are digs, blocks, kills, aces and assists.

A dig is a defensive move where a player bumps the ball to keep it from hitting the floor and thereby prevents the other team from scoring. The women’s team averaged 15.11 digs per set in its 2021 season, while the men’s team is currently averaging 7.57.

Blocks are used to deflect the volleyball coming from the opponent and send it back to the other side. It can be done by either one player or a group of players at the net to prevent the opposing team from getting a kill.

A player is awarded a kill when they hit the ball and it either hits the floor immediately or the opposing team can’t successfully return the ball to the opposite side of the court. The men’s team is averaging 11.14 kills per set in the 2022 season, while the women’s team averaged 13.78.

An ace can be made in one of two ways — the first way is when the ball is served and it hits the opponent’s court without a return. The second way is if the ball is served but the opponent is unable to keep the ball in play after their first contact.

The Loyola men’s basketball team will next hit the court at home Jan. 21 against Belmont Abbey College. First serve is scheduled for 3 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN+. 

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