In was in 2004 when the beach volleyball world outside of the United States got its first glimpse of Phil Dalhausser. He and Adam Roberts traveled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where they emerged from the qualifier before competing on the grandest of stages: Center court against the best team in the world, Ricardo Santos and Emanuel Rego. They’d lose, but come closer than anybody could have reasonably expected from a couple FIVB rookies, falling just 18-21, 19-21.
At that point in time, Dalhausser, at 6-foot-9, was one of the tallest players in the world. And as his dominance grew, so, too, did the world’s adaptation to solve the problem that was Phil Dalhausser.
Take a glimpse at the rankings of the best teams in the world, and what you’ll find is that Dalhausser is no longer the tallest player in the world. In fact, there’s a chance he’s outside of the top 10. Russia’s top two teams boast a pair of 7-foot blockers (Konstantin Semenov, Oleg Stoyanovskiy); the top three teams in the Netherlands are all led by men taller than the Thin Beast (Christiaan Varenhorst, Robert Meeuwsen, Stefan Boermans); Brazil, too, at least matches Dalhausser’s height with three blockers (Alison Cerutti, Evandro Goncalves, Andre Loyola).
The world adapted, growing bigger, bigger, bigger, to the point that defenders were now eclipsing Dalhausser’s height.
Now it’s adapting right back.
With all of that height and size and length came one, glaring problem: While athletic, the bigger men at the net weren’t necessarily as mobile. Teams with exceptional ball control and creative minds began devising ways to make the giants look foolish, as Poland’s Piotr Kantor and Bartosz Losiak, America’s Tri Bourne and John Hyden, and Italy’s Adrian Carambula and Alex Ranghieri ushered in a new era of offense, spreading the court, running fast sets, quick sets, feints and fakes. Speed, deception, trickery – it all served to minimize the impact of the height on the other side of the net.
And now, the latest wrinkle: The jump set.
While Carambula, Bourne, and Poland were the first to deploy it with such an intrepid volume, the jump-set has become a staple of beach volleyball offenses all around the world. Sweden’s youngsters, David Ahman and Jonatan Hellvig, jump-set on perhaps half of their offensive plays – and they’ve won three youth World Championships doing it, while also proving to be formidable at the professional level, winning a King of the Court event in Hamburg and claiming bronze in Doha last week.
Carambula and his new partner, Enrico Rossi, who qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, jump-set frequently, as does nearly every team from Poland or, for that matter, any team lacking in size. For where there is a dearth of size, there must be an atoning skill.
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That skill is increasingly becoming the jump-set.
“We have to overwhelm the blocker with a little bit more than just: get in front of the attacker and hitting,” Better at Beach coach Brandon Joyner said. “The reason we’re starting to see it more is trying to make our partner’s job of siding out a little bit easier.
“When we jump-set, now the blocker is thinking about two attackers at once, so the blocker is going to be late, and our attacking efficiency is going to be high.”
In the United States, nobody is more effective with the jump-set than young Miles Partain, a sophomore at UCLA who was, per Volleyball Magazine, the top defender on the AVP in 2021. But what makes Partain’s jump-sets far more deadly than any other in the country, and perhaps the world, is that his jump-sets look the exact same as his attacks. He approaches with an aggressive step close. His arms swing back. His right arm is high, left arm cocked.
And then he’ll either rip an option, which he does with frequency, or freeze the blocker and set his partner, who is usually Paul Lotman. If you’re the blocker, what do you do? Stay with Partain and he’ll see you and shoot a set to Lotman, one of the best side out players on the AVP. Shift with Lotman and Partain will now have an open swath of court to option, and he’s accurate enough to almost never miss when given the opportunity.
It’s a nightmare to defend, which is why so few are able to defend it.
But, it should be noted: It’s also a highly complex skill, one that takes remarkable touch, timing, fast decision making, and deft hands to set the ball where your partner needs it. When you begin jump setting, even if your Ahman and Partain, you’ll double more balls than not. You’ll set your partner in a bad spot. The hitter’s timing will be off.
It is difficult to perfect, and it is especially difficult to perfect if you’re not playing with the same partner regularly. It’s why you’ll see new partnerships struggle to side out when jump-setting; the hitter will see his setter going up to hit and he’ll stop making his approach. When the setter sets the ball, the hitter is caught off guard, his approach is thrown off, and a sloppy hit will ensue.
And worth it.
If you’re a smaller team – and the world is becoming smaller and faster and more creative by the year – the jump-set can be your best ally. It’s wicked to defend, especially if you’ve proven to have an effective option attack, which will help freeze the blocker and cause mayhem on the other side of the net.
Yes, the world has gotten huge. There are Harry Potter-sized trolls on the other side of the net. They’re intimidating, formidable.
They’re also slow. Use their size to your advantage.
Get to jump-setting.
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