Understanding High School Volleyball: Sets, Points & Rules


There are a few key differences between high school and college or professional volleyball. One of the biggest differences, and also one of the most common questions people have is how many sets are there in high school volleyball.

Most high school volleyball matches are played up to 5 sets, as per the NFSHS’s rulebook. However, there are some district-based exceptions where matches only include 3 sets. This depends on the local athletic governing body.

how many sets in high school volleyball

One of the most common misconceptions about high school volleyball is that rules are universal and that all high schools follow the same rulebook, which is entirely untrue.

In this article, we’ll take a look at what the rulebooks say about the number of sets, point caps, and winning games.

High School Volleyball Sets

Sets are score-limited segments of play in volleyball. You need to win the majority of sets in a volleyball match to win the entire match. Depending on the format of the competition, you can either play three of five sets. In three-set matches, you need to win two sets to win, while five-set matches require the winning of three sets to win the match.

high school volleyball sets

High school volleyball matches usually include five sets, although this rule isn’t set in stone and you’ll sometimes see matches played only up to three sets. At this stage of development, players are more ready (both physically and mentally) to play longer games, so a lot of competitions move on from the three-set format seen in middle school competitions.

So, is high school volleyball best of 5? That really depends on the district the high school is in and the competition the team is participating in.

For example, CAA’s (Coastal Athletic Association) guidelines say that high school matches have to use the 5-set format, following the guidelines proposed by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

However, the Ohio High School Athletic Association states that all non-varsity games are to be played using the 3-set format. Therefore, there is no definitive answer to the high school set number question – it really depends on the district.

Length of Volleyball Games

There’s no time limit on volleyball games – they last until one team wins three sets out of five or two sets out of three. In both 3-set and 5-set matches, a set is won when one team wins 25 points with a 2-point difference (so, 25-23, for example).

If the result is less than a 2-point difference (25-24, for example), the set goes on until one team establishes a 2-point difference. There are also special rules pertaining to this, though. According to the CAA, there’s a set cap at 28 points, meaning that even if a 2-point difference isn’t established, the team reaching 28 points is the winning team.

length of volleyball games

This is a major difference between high school volleyball and college or professional volleyball, as they don’t have a point cap.

If we take a look at Ohio’s regulations, they don’t have a point cap, which means that a set can go beyond 28 points. This, once again, means that the rules aren’t uniform and that it all depends on the authoritative sports association in the district.

Read Also: Weirdest Rules in Volleyball

The final set, known as the match-set, is won once a team wins 15 points with a 2-point difference, making it noticeably shorter than a regular 25-point set. This rule is the same in middle school, high school, college, and professional volleyball.

So, how long is a 5 or 3 set volleyball game? There’s no definitive answer. If one team establishes dominance, they can win two or three sets in less than an hour. If a game goes to 2-2 in sets and it’s all up to the final, match-winning set, the game can last almost two hours.

Scoring in High School Volleyball

scoring in high school volleyball

The scoring system used in high school volleyball is identical to the scoring system used in professional and college volleyball. You win a point every time the ball touches the ground on your opponent’s side of the court, if the opponents send the ball out of play, or if they commit foul play.

The same rules apply to you, so you concede points if you do any of those things.

To win a set, you need 25 points with a 2-point difference, but you only need 15 points to win the final set, which is why a lot of people get confused and ask is the last set in volleyball to 15?

Winning a Volleyball Match

winning a volleyball match

How many games must a high school team win in order to win a volleyball match?

Ideally, all of them, but it’s not necessary, as they just need 3 out of 5 to win the match.

A completely dominant win happens when a team wins all three sets in a row and thus wins the entire match. However, 3-1 and 3-2 wins are just as valid and they win you the entire match (or in the case of 3-set games, a 2-1 win is enough).

Differences Between High School and Collegiate Matches

There are a few notable differences between high school and collegiate rules which have a massive effect on the game.

high school vs collegiate matches

First of all, collegiate volleyball doesn’t have a point cap. A single set can climb up to the score of 35-33 if that’s what it takes to win the set. This rule can, of course, be changed in unofficial matches (such as training matches or charity matches), but there’s never a point cap in official matches.

Some people think that both high school varsity matches and collegiate matches are the best 2 out of 3. This is incorrect. Official college games are always played up to 5 sets (not including friendly and charity games), which is another major difference between high school and college volleyball.

Players generally get better at both attacking and defending with age, therefore, college matches are typically longer than high school matches. It’s rare for a college match to end with a completely dominant win with a team easily winning all three sets.

Plays are also longer, and similar to tennis, the ball will go from one side to the other several times before someone finally wins a point!

High School Volleyball Point System

high school volleyball point system

Teams score points by getting the ball to touch the floor at the opposite team’s side of the court. There’s no difference between high school volleyball and other levels of the sport when it comes to scoring.

A common question we get is in a high school game of volleyball, the game is played to how many points? This is the only notable difference between high school volleyball and college or professional volleyball. Point accumulation isn’t the same.

As I explained before, some athletic associations instill a point cap (CAA’s 28-cap, for example). The cap is there just to limit the length of a volleyball match for both organizational purposes and to prevent injuries, which are likely to occur during longer matches.

To Sum Up

Most high school volleyball matches are played up to five sets, although there are exceptions where the game is played up to three sets. Some associations also include a point cap to prevent the sets from dragging on for too long.

This makes high school volleyball noticeably different from college and professional volleyball, as those matches are always played up to five sets, and there is also no point cap.

What are your experiences with high school volleyball? Did you play 3-set or 5-set matches? Let us know in the comments below.

ABOUT Harvey Meale

As a former international level volleyball player, I now spend my days working out and writing for Volleyball Vault. I look for ways to bring my wealth of experience and knowledge to create unique and insightful perspectives in my content.