Until a couple of months ago, American volleyball star Jordan Larson had never had the opportunity of playing in a professional league in her home country. After winning the inaugural edition of the Athletes Unlimited Volleyball League, the 34-year-old Olympic medallist is already looking forward to doing it all again.
Shortly after the conclusion of the inaugural season, which was held in Dallas, Texas, the organisers announced a second edition of the league which will take place in February 2022. For Larson, who topped the standings of the inaugural tournament with 4,569 points, it will be another opportunity to enjoy the experience of competing closer to home after playing in Puerto Rico, Turkey, Russia and China over the last 12 years.
“I had never experienced it before, nor playing in the United States or in this system,” the 2014 world champion said. “Reflecting back when it all started, when I first met the organisers, it was great to see someone was willing to take a chance on us. To be a part of it, it’s something I’m going to cherish for many years.”
The league also left a good impression on the international players who helped to strengthen the first year of competition in the United States. Dominican star Bethania De La Cruz, who finished second in the first edition of the competition with 3,690 points, and Brazilian two-time Olympic champion Sheilla Castro are among the players who left the event with a positive impression.
For the 37-year-old Sheilla, who hopes to be part of the Brazilian national team roster during the 2021 international season, the prospect of having an established volleyball league in the United States is a very exciting one.
“I really enjoyed the experience,” the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic champion said. “The start was crazy and there was a lot of new stuff for us to understand, but after the first week, it was a lot of fun. I’d love to continue helping the league to grow. We know there’s a lot of potential for sports in general in the United States and it can be a fantastic market for our sport.”
The feeling is that in the long-term, the league could make American volleyball even stronger. The first obvious benefit would be providing college players an option to start their professional careers closer to home instead of having to head overseas.
American national team head coach Karch Kiraly can envision a scenario in which part of the country’s top players decide to join the league so they can compete in front of their home fans.
“To have this option is a wonderful one especially when it keeps on this path where it presents such a good experience in itself and also good preparation for things that are looming on the national team competitive season horizon,” Kiraly said.
Larson becomes first Athletes Unlimited champion
Main Photo: Jade Hewitt/Athletes Unlimited