A game-changing phenomenon is afoot in NCAA volleyball

Maybe it will happen this week at the final four in Kansas City. Or maybe it won’t. It is so spontaneous, so random, that you never know when or where it’s going to happen.

It could be on a crucial point in the fifth set. It could happen following a net cord or a tip or an errant pass. But when a volleyball player — using a mix of instinct and desperation — throws her foot out to keep a point alive, it electrifies everyone who witnesses it. In person or on the internet.

Kick, set, spike … viral video.

“If you can’t get your hand or arm under it …” you’ve always got your foot, said Wisconsin’s Kelli Bates, who used hers to amass three kick saves this season to go along with 295 kills and 298 digs.

“It’s cool whenever I get it,” said Bates, whose kick saves came against Southern Mississippi, Nebraska and Michigan State. “I used to play soccer and I have pretty good hand-eye coordination. I throw my foot out there and a lot of times it just goes up.”

A kick save, for the uninitiated, is — well — just what it sounds like. With the ball out of reach and nearing the floor, a player throws out a foot and manages to kick it to a teammate (or even over the net) to keep the play alive.

And before you ask, yes, it’s all aboveboard.

“Yep, the commentator wondered if it was legal,” said UNC Asheville’s Ansley Rooks, who recorded her one and only kick save this season against Florida State.

The official rules of NCAA volleyball state that the ball can touch any part of the body when hitting, as long as it does not come to rest there. Since a rules change in 1999, that includes the foot.

“It counts as a dig, which is absolutely hilarious,” said North Carolina’s Taylor Fricano, whose one and only collegiate kick save came against LSU this season.

Are we seeing more kick saves than before? Hard to say. It’s not an official statistic, but in the age of social media, any spectacular or unexpected feat now has the capability of going viral.

Pancakes, which leave a player flat on the floor in an attempt to propel a ball upward, are last-ditch efforts; kick saves are even more desperate. That makes them even more stunning when they succeed.

Look, Mom, no hands!

Fricano even had enough volleyball IQ to scream, “Up” at just the right moment. “You could actually see people relax because they thought the point was over. Until you get it up or start yelling that it’s up, it’s so fast and there’s this feeling that there’s no way. And there usually is no way.”