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Freshmen Don't Dig High School Playing Rules

Volleyball: After getting used to more liberal club rules, they struggle while trying to adjust to stricter requirements.


As first practices go, this one was awful. Coach Cari Klein wanted nothing more than to cover her face with a volleyball.

It would have been easy to do. They were flying all over the place in the L.A. Marymount High gym.

The freshmen, bleary-eyed and bewildered, looked at Klein as if she were clueless, which was unusual. Klein has won the last two state girls' volleyball Division IV titles at Marymount.

But this incoming group of freshmen had been used to club volleyball rules markedly different from high school rules. Club rules include:

* Liberal passing techniques. Players can receive serves with their hands, as if in a setting position, instead of "bumping" them with their arms.

* The libero, a back-row player that may freely substitute in and out, unlike high school matches with a restricted number of substitutions.

* The "let serve," a served ball that is in play if it touches the net and continues over to the other side. In high school matches, a serve that touches the net is immediately whistled dead.

* Point-per-serve, or "rally," scoring in every game, different from the traditional side-out scoring of high school volleyball.

In particular, Klein and high school coaches dislike the passing rules in high school and feel the strict requirements are antiquated.

Players can pass the ball with their hands in club, college and Olympic volleyball, but are practically barred from doing so in high school. They can attempt to use their hands in high school but are almost always whistled for a "double-contact" if the pass is not executed with absolute perfection--there must be no spin on the ball when it leaves a player's hands.

It is hardly worth the risk. As a result, high school coaches must break the habits of freshmen and train them to pass with their arms.

"They look at me like I'm speaking another language," Klein said. "They look at me like this is my dumb rule. I keep explaining it's not, but I get the feeling that they don't like it."

The looser passing rules have been in effect in club for three years. Only now is Klein starting to see it trickle down to freshmen, who know no other way to pass if they have spent the last few years on a club team.

Julie Peterson, in her first year at Marymount, is one such player. She has had trouble grasping the concept of passing with her arms. Like other freshmen, she would prefer to use her hands.

"You've been playing that way for years and as soon as you get to high school volleyball, they switch all the rules," Peterson said. "The rules should all be the same. It's very frustrating."

Coaches agree.

"It's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," said Santa Ana Mater Dei Coach Craig Pazanti. "We're the only level not playing by those rules. At some point, high school has got to catch up. It's a completely different game."

Susan Pescar coaches Long Beach Wilson, the No. 1 team in The Times' preseason rankings. Pescar said her first practices this season were like boot camps.

"They come in and we're yelling all the time, 'Don't use your hands, don't use your hands,' " she said. "We don't want to lose matches because someone used their hands."

Coaches have other complaints besides the rule itself. They feel enforcement of the rule is somewhat inconsistent.

It turns into a wait-and-see approach for coaches.

"We wait until the other team uses their hands until we start doing it," Klein said. "We don't want to lose a point if the referee is going to call it. It's really a gray area."

Some high school coaches, however, criticize club, college and Olympic rules.

"To me it degrades the beauty of the game if you let somebody grab the ball and practically throw it up," Anaheim Esperanza Coach Kurt Kersten said. "I hope high school never goes to the overhand pass. There's not any skill involved."

Said Newport Harbor Coach Dan Glenn: "In high school, you've got to have better fundamentals. You've got to move your feet. You've got to be athletic.

"But we'll probably eventually be forced to play slop ball, like they do in college and everywhere else."

The California Interscholastic Federation has no plans to change volleyball rules. A CIF spokesman said it would only happen if the National Federation of State High School Assns. changes its rules.

Until then, freshmen entrenched in club techniques will continue to struggle with the difference in rules.

"They're trying hard, but they get mad at themselves," Klein said. "It's hard to switch."

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