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 watch.” 

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 American. 

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.”