The End Of Specialisation? : Part 1 – Macerata

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Last week’s Champions League Playoff 6 was notable for a couple of reasons.  Polish club Kedzierzyn Kozle beat last season’s Final Four performers Izmir to reach the last stage for the first time in nearly ten years.  Zenit Kazan celebrated the knocking out of perennial finallists Trento by crushing fellow Russians Dynamo Moscow.  And Italian powers Macerata and Cuneo faced off against each other.  The Italian match up was the closest, with Cuneo reaching their first ever Final Four in the golden set, but it was also interesting as neither team played with a ‘traditional’ lineup.

Since Doug Beal and the USA men’s team pioneered the two receiver system in the early 1980’s volleyball (particularly men’s volleyball) has become more and more specialised.  So specialised in fact that virtually every men’s team in the world plays exactly the same way; one setter, one opposite, two receivers (one better at receiving, one better at spiking), two middle blockers and one libero (who always comes into the game for the middle blockers.  But ever so slowly there have been some small variations creeping into the this homogenised game.  Angelo Lorenzetti used three receivers and no opposites while winning the Italian championship with Piacenza in 2009.  Vladimir Alekno played players out of ‘position’ to win the 2012 Olympics.  And now Macerata and Cuneo faced off in a big match playing two completely different types of lineups.

Macerata are using a variation of the the lineup Piacenza used in 2009, in that they are playing with three receivers.  The one difference is while Piacenza were forced by circumstances into their version, Macerata intended to play with this system from the beginning of the season, albeit with slightly different personnel.  The lineup as they played against Cuneo is shown here.

Macerata Lineup
Macerata Lineup

Travica is the setter. Stankovic and Podrascanin are middles.  Parodi and Kooy are nominally the receivers.  Zaytsev is nominally the opposite.  Basically where this lineup differs from the ‘standard’ is that Zaytsev, while playing opposite the setter, both spikes from the backrow and takes on a major passing role, while Kooy, while playing in a receivers ‘slot’ plays almost solely as a spiker.  We can see how it works, rotation by rotation.


P1 is fairly obvious.  Zaytsev drops back to receive, either in the standard three receiver formation without Kooy, or with Kooy in the four receiver version.

P1 - 3 Receivers
P1 – 3 Receivers
P1 - 4 Receivers
P1 – 4 Receivers


Not much to be done here.  Standard formation.



Zaytsev lines up as though he will not receive but moves back into the receiving position as the server makes his toss.  Kooy could also step out completely to make it a three receiver formation.

P5 - Before Serve
P5 – Before Serve
P5 - During Serve
P5 – During Serve


Zaytsev lines up as though he will not receive but moves into the receiving position as the server makes his toss.  Kooy could also step out completely to make it a three receiver formation.  Zaytsev can and will easily recieve and spike from the backrow.

P4 - Before Serve
P4 – Before Serve
P4 - During Serve
P4 – During Serve


Zaytsev recieves in position 1 and spikes from position 1.  Kooy stands completely our of the reception and prepares to spike the pipe.



Zaytsev is forced by the rotational order to receiver in position and therefore cannot spike in position 1.  Kooy stays out of the reception and plays the ‘opposite’ role in this rotation.


So there it is.  A new paradigm? Or maybe the Cuneo version is the new paradigm. Or maybe the new paradigm is that there is no paradigm.

Cuneo in Part 2


  1. Great Post. The Italian Women in the last Olympic cycle used a receiver (Usually Lucia Bosetti at 175cm) in the opposite position for a few tournaments (World Champs, Olympics), who received serve. The women’s game seems to adopt this well as sliding attacks means there are fewer situations where a spiker attacks from 1. It makes sense since Italy doesn’t have a big Opposite like Sheila Castro or Destinee Hooker. They still can’t get to the semi’s in an Olympic tournament

    China in 2008 (and maybe 2012) used star spiker Wang Yimei as an outside hitter (playing next to the setter) who stood out of the pass in all rotations.

    WIth players like Destinee Hooker, the question is will women’s offences start looking more like men’s offences (opposite attacking rightside in most situations) or will we still see the variety


    1. In women’s volleyball there is a lot more variation in terms of lineups and tactics. In this sense it is more or less a different game.


    1. Salaries aren’t solely determined by position 🙂
      I can imagine that a passing opposite would be reasonably well paid, given that he is unique and allows enormous flexibility.


  2. Why do i look at this and feel that it’s done simply because Zaytsev is their best attacker and reciever (with the exception of Henno) I’m still not completely sold on this rotation, i think if they had a real good opposite at the expense of 1 of the outsides, they would be a better team.


    1. As I understand it, they planned to play this way from the beginning of the season, and did, with Savani in the position that Kooy is playing.
      They have a pretty decent opposite in Starovic, but don’t really use him because Zaytsev is just better. And if Savani is also playing, why should he receive in every position if Zaytsev is a better passer?
      I agree it does seem overly complicated, but that could just be because for so long there has been no complexity, or at least variation, at all.


    2. Nathan, even if it were a temporary solution due to a particular set of circumstances, I think it still shows a change in thinking. Most often in the recent past, most coaches would have filled the position as was and in this case played with an inferior opposite.
      The Italians in 2008 were so specialised that they only worked with pairs of receivers, Zlatanov/Paparoni and Cisolla/Martino (from memory). When the libero was injured and Paparoni had to play libero, Zlatanov didn’t play anymore, even though he should have been one of the best players because he could ‘only’ play one position and only with Paparoni. I can’t see that situation happening now. At least not in Macerata 😉


  3. This is interesting. Still the biggest surprise for me was Russia at the last Olympics. They were 2 sets down Brazil. What does Alekno? He lets 2 middle blockers play at the same time, Mikhailov (opposite) becomes a receiver and he uses 2,17 m tall Muserskiy to replace Mikhailov as opposite or to use him as a spiker. He didn’t have any reception in first two sets then after changing the formation he won the Olympic final. That was crazy. Now, there are many players who change their position, or sometimes the coach does what he has to do just to keep his team going and winning.


      1. true… it will be verybinteresting.. watching all these changes and new possibilities for players… I only hope that because of these changes volleyball won’t lose its magic. what I have always wanted to see is Polands Marcin Możdżonek (middle block) in a 3rd meter pipe action… that would be interesting.
        Congratulations on winning today against TV Rottenburg! I am happy to see that Scott and Roko are back with the team!!! Hope they will get back to their best shape for play offs!


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