International stars in action at Athletes Unlimited League
DALLAS, Texas, February 26, 2021 - After several years of wait,
the United States has a professional women’s volleyball league
again. And the first edition of the Athletes Unlimited
Volleyball League starts on Saturday, in Dallas. It will feature
some of the international stars of the sport and a unique format
that promotes individual competition among the players.
The new league is highlighted by two-time Brazilian Olympic
champion Sheilla Castro, two-time American Olympic medallist
Jordan Larson and Olympians Bethania de la Cruz of the Dominican
Republic, and Aurea Cruz of Puerto Rico.
Other well-known names include USA national team regulars like
opposite Karsta Lowe and middle blockers Lauren Gibbemeyer, Tori
Dixon and Molly McCage. A couple of familiar faces will be seen
on the sidelines too as former players Tayyiba Haneef-Park and
Tamari Miyashiro are among the four coaches that will take part
in the event.
All of the participants, however, will have to adapt to a
completely innovative playing system, in which teams are drafted
from the 48-player pool every week and athletes accumulate
points according to achievements on court.
“It’s not the type of volleyball we’re used to, but I think
that’s a good thing,” Larson said. “A lot of times they tried in
the past to start a league and hadn’t had a lot of momentum.
This is unique and new and I think we’re finding out more that
fans are attracted more to individuals and less to teams. This
could bring the ability to follow a player they love and see who
moves through the ranks and who’s winning, and that creates a
unique fan experience. I hope it will bring more people to
The tournament will run for five weeks, with a pair of matches
taking place every Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Point bonuses
will be offered to players of the winning teams and match MVPs.
Players will also be scored during matches and they can earn
points for aces, blocks, digs and kills, but also lose points if
they make errors while performing some of these actions. At the
end of the tournament, the player with the most points
accumulated will be the winner.
A three-time Olympian, Sheilla is confident her participation in
the tournament will help her build good form ahead of the FIVB
Volleyball Nations League and the Tokyo Olympics.
“The season will be shorter, which will be good to my body, and
I’ll be playing with great players and challenging my game in a
format that will demand a lot from each of us every single day,”
the Brazilian said. “I spoke with the Brazilian national team
coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes about this possibility and we
thought it would be a great opportunity.”
The creation of the league carries a special meaning for players
of the talent-rich region, who often had to continue their club
careers on other continents, most notably Europe, Asia and South
For the 33-year-old De La Cruz, who has played professionally in
the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Japan, Korea, Turkey,
Italy, Russia and Indonesia, the hope is that a future
generation of players from the region can benefit.
“Players such as myself and others in the Americas have been
waiting a long time to play in a volleyball league in the United
States due to the higher level of play,” she said. “It will be
an opportunity for players coming out of college to not have to
leave too far from home to play volleyball.”