The very personification of this week’s video on on-two attacking in beach volleyball was being played out on Friday morning – evening in Cagliari, Italy – in the final round of pool play of the World Tour Finals. On the court were Canadians and World Champions Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan, and Americans Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil.
It’s a matchup that features virtually every type of on-two attacking in beach volleyball, from the right-hander on the left side (that’s Claes) to the lefty on the right (Pavan) to the sneaky over on-twos, either via dumping in front or back-setting (Sponcil). It featured aggressive options, placement options, sneaky options and poke options.
It featured the way that beach volleyball is going, with a heavy dose of on-two attacking and much less frequent traditional style.
It’s been going this way for some time now. Tri Bourne and John Hyden were one of the first to use the on-two option with such abundance, both in serve receive and transition. There’s a reason Hyden’s been playing so long – well, there are many, many reasons for that – and one of them is that he’s been a pioneer in utilizing athletic partners and wicked ball control to make virtually any pass a set. Bourne and Hyden preceded the likes of Polish wunderkinds Piotr Kantor and Bartosz Losiak, whose rice coincided with that of Alex Ranghieri and Adrian Carambula, option kings all.
On the women’s side, Australians Mariafe Artacho and Taliqua Clancy, silver medalists in the Tokyo Olympics, are the deadliest users of the options. Artacho’s magnificent passing allows her to spread the court, sending her 6-foot blocker to the pin. Clancy, a tremendous setter, either has the option, or the ability to set the ball to the other pin to Artacho, keeping the blocker scrambling from one side of the net to the other.
Claes and Sponcil, of course, use the option more than any team in the world, men’s or women’s. The result? They became the youngest team in United States history to qualify for the Olympic Games.
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The trend, and its usefulness, is undeniable. Which leaves the question: How do we know when to use the on-two attack in beach volleyball?
It’s a risky play, make no mistake. The pass has to be there, so the option isn’t always available. And when the pass is? Your approach is different from a typical pass-set-hit. It’s from farther back. The ball is coming from a different angle. You don’t have the vision you typically would in a serve-receive attack.
To use the on-two attack effectively, then, we must have a general idea of where the defense is going. Where is the blocker running to? Where is the defender shifting? Where are the open spaces? If you watch Kelly Claes, you’ll notice she doesn’t often rip swings when she options; she pokes, she shoots, sometimes she just stands there. Does it work every time? No. Does it need to? Also no.
Just the mere threat of an option will keep the defense on its toes.
“You can catch the defense by surprise if you look like you’re going to set, then instead of setting is pop the ball over to the corner,” AVP professional beach volleyball player and Better at Beach coach Brandon Joyner said. “Make sure you’re still speeding up the play. If your option is going to get picked up, it’s probably because you slowed the play down.”
Keep the pace moving. Keep the defense guessing. Keep attacking on-two.
If the best players in the world are using the on-two attack in beach volleyball, so should you.
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