High school volleyball matches will have a new look this fall when public- and private-school leagues move to rally scoring, which awards a point on each play, regardless of which team is serving.
The rally-scoring format - best three-out-of-five matches, with games played to 25 points except for a 15-point fifth game, if necessary - will speed up matches and make every play critical, adding excitement to the sport, proponents say.
"It catches the audience's attention more because it's giving points all the time and there's a lot more action," said Glenelg junior setter Tara Stradling, last fall's All-Metro Player of the Year after leading the Gladiators to the Class 2A state title.
Jill Masterman, director of the girls state volleyball tournament committee, said the committee members overwhelmingly favor rally scoring as well as the few other rules changes recently mandated by the National Federation of State High School Associations' Volleyball Rules Committee for the 2004-05 school year.
The federation made it optional for school systems to adopt the changes in 2003-04, but Masterman said the new rules will be initiated here this fall.
Rally scoring and the other rules changes, including the let serve and double contact on serve receive, already have been adopted at the club, college and international levels.
The NCAA made the switches in 2001, and these rules were adopted for the 2000 Olympics.
"Change is already out there, and it's been well-received. Why would we hold on to the way the game was played when everyone else was making the change?" Masterman said. "We've been under increasing pressure to change. We've gotten a lot of e-mails and letters supporting rally scoring."
The opinion is the same in the private schools, said Mike Naunton, Mount Carmel athletic director, who chairs the volleyball committees for both the boys Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association and the girls Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland.
The MIAA athletic directors adopted the federation rules at their January meeting, and Naunton expects the IAAM coaches to adopt them at their meeting Tuesday and the athletic directors to agree at their next monthly meeting.
"We don't have to do this, because we're private schools," Naunton said, "but it doesn't make sense to be the only volleyball in town that doesn't do it."
In addition to rally scoring, the two biggest changes are the let serve, which keeps the serve in play even if it hits the net, and double contact on serve receive, which allows players to use an overhand hit instead of the forearm pass.
With many players, coaches and officials switching between club ball and high school ball, the changes make the adjustment easier.
"I'm all for it," said Centennial coach Mike Bossom, who also coaches with the Columbia Volleyball Club. "If you choose to go on to the next level, that's the way they're playing there."
Stradling, the Glenelg setter who is also a club veteran playing for the Time Out For Sports Orange Crush, said, "I'm happy about it. It's a big transition from club to high school. In high school, you couldn't use overhand passing on serve receive and that was a big deal, because everyone did it in club. Now, we're all on the same page."
Owings Mills coach Lisa Meyer has used rally scoring in practice because it stresses fundamentals, and she said it will bring the same emphasis to matches.
"It makes every aspect of the game count so much more," Meyer said. "Before, if you were serving and your team didn't win the play, you really didn't lose much but the serve. Now, if you have a great serve receive, you're going to get a point every time and you're going to get the ball back. It puts the emphasis on serving and passing on serve receive."
Last fall, 17 state high school associations experimented with rally scoring, and statistics collected by the NFSHSA reported that games lasted 15 to 23 minutes and matches lasted from 64 to 82 minutes.
Bossom said rally scoring would shorten the average three-game match about 10 to 15 minutes, but that a five-game marathon match could be cut almost in half, taking no more than 1 hour, 45 minutes.
A few coaches got a taste of rally scoring in 1998 when a rules interpreter mistakenly believed the fifth game of a match should be decided by rally scoring. A few matches in Harford and Howard counties were decided that way until the mistake was discovered and corrected by midseason.
Some coaches have expressed mixed feeling about some of the new rules. Some would rather play the final game to 25 points instead of 15, although all games still must be won by two points. And some coaches don't care for the let serve.
Broadneck coach Romonzo Beans, who also coaches for the Chesapeake Volleyball Club, said the let may change the way some players serve.
"If you miss a serve now, you're giving up a point," said Beans, whose Bruins won the past two 4A state crowns. "You don't seem to be able to serve as aggressively. It's more of a serving game. You're less willing to take chances."
However, Meyer said with rally scoring, the let serve is almost a necessity.
"If you emphasize the serve so much, you have to leave a little room for error," she said.
"The only down side," Bossom said, "is if you're losing 24-23 and your team misses the serve, we win because of your mistake. But look at how many games are lost in basketball on foul shots. For the kids, it's a skill they can control."
John Carroll coach Greg Cullison, whose team won the IAAM B Conference championship last fall, opposes all of the changes. Cullison, who does not coach club ball and does not have many club players on his team, stressed that the majority of high school players do not play club ball and will not go on to play in college.
"I guess I'm a dinosaur," said Cullison, with a laugh. "I don't understand the logic that when you're receiving serve, just because you can't score a point, the play is not important. It's always important to get the ball back, because that's the only way you can score. I don't see how it emphasizes each play even more. You never want to lose a rally whether you get a point for it or not."