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Athletes Unlimited Volleyball Is Bringing The Sport To The US In A New Way

By Mackenzie Meaney

Athletes Unlimited is no stranger to bringing women’s sports to a professional spotlight. In the summer of 2020 they brought softball to the professional stage, and in February of 2021, volleyball made its debut in partnership with USA Volleyball.

The season will run for five weeks, spanning from February 27 to March 29. Athletes will play at Fair Park Coliseum in Dallas, Texas, and games will be broadcasted live on FOX Sports and CBS Network —guaranteeing 22 of the 30 games will be played on live television.

Some of the biggest names to ever step foot on the court will be a few of the 44 athletes participating in the season. Two-time USA Olympian Jordan Larson is one of the biggest names on the roster this season. 

Athletes Unlimited Volleyball league is one of the most anticipated women’s leagues heading into the winter. After the success of the softball league that took the conventional understanding of a league and flipped it into an interactive, fan-centered experience, the volleyball league will be the first of its kind. It’s the first professional women’s volleyball league the U.S. has seen. 

 “We’re just excited to bring top level competition,” Athletes Unlimited CEO Jon Patricof said in an interview with Forbes. “I think for fans who maybe aren’t as familiar with this, I think that they’re going to have a chance to see it at the highest level.”

 Women’s volleyball leagues are scattered all around the world, with some of the most successful being in Europe or South America. College volleyball is the highest level of intensity the sport usually sees in the U.S. other than when it is time for the Summer Olympics. Larson told Forbes that for athletes around the world, having the opportunity to play in the polarizing U.S. was an offer they could not refuse.

“If you ask any foreign player, ‘How cool would it be to be in the States and play?’ people would sign up immediately,” Larson said.

Players this season are not only competing to win, but to put on the best possible performance. Similar to fantasy sports, each player is awarded points based on their individual play. Additionally, each set is worth 40 points, while the overall game is worth 60 points. This creates an interesting dynamic because players can lose the game overall, but still accumulate points to win in that category.

Players and exclusive fans in the Unlimited Club also have the ability to vote for three MVPs. The first MVP gets 60 points, second place gets 40, and the third gets 20. 

Aces are worth 12 points, kills are worth eight points, digs are worth five points, passes are worth two points and assists are worth one point. An error in any category (other than digs)  causes the player to lose 12 points. 

Another new technique the league is implementing is the captain draft. As opposed to having four set teams play each other week in and week out, The top four players who have scored the most points from the previous week will be considered “captains” for the next. 

Captains draft their team full of players who they would like on their squad. This keeps each game fresh and give players the opportunity to play with new athletes and have the incentive to continue to play well in order to potentially create their own team for the following week. 

“Our approach has been, let’s not just add a ‘W’ to a men’s league and replicate what’s been done before,” Patricof said about the interactive and innovative approach to his league.  “I really feel it will prove successful in volleyball and beyond.”

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