Two Athletes Unlimited matches Saturday in Dallas as new pro volleyball venture begins

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Athletes Unlimited begins 2/26/2021-Leah Edmond-Athletes Unlimited
Leah Edmond attacks as Karsta Lowe, left, an Nia Grant put up the block during an AU scrimmage

New, exciting and different. 

Very different.

The players are ready, the viewing venues are plentiful, and sponsors are on board.

And Saturday, Athletes Unlimited Volleyball gets under way at Fair Park Coliseum in Dallas.

Professional women’s volleyball has come and gone in America, most recently when the United States Professional Volleyball folded in 2003.

Now, Athletes Unlimited will put forth a five-week season with a novel concept in American sports. What’s more, AU has multiple television/streaming outlets in hand, putting it a leg up on previous ventures.

There is, of course, a pool of players, most of whom have top-notch volleyball credentials, and each week they’ll be divided into four different teams. In addition to each player making at least $10,000 for the season (more with bonuses), they’ll be rewarded (or penalized in points, not money) for performance.

After each round of matches, points will be totaled up and the four top players will become the captains for the next weekend. They, in turn, will conduct a new player draft to create four new teams. That will continue throughout the February 27-March 29 season.

(Click here to read the story Megan Kaplon wrote for VBM last month about the scoring system last month).

The captains for the first week are former Washington All-American middle blocker Lianna Sybeldon, former Illinois All-American middle blocker Ali Bastianelli, former Wisconsin libero Tiffany Clark, and former Florida All-American outside hitter Aury Cruz. 

The first match is at 5 p.m. Eastern (4 p.m. local) when Team Sybeldon (Purple) plays Team Bastianelli (Orange). It will be shown on the various AU platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, Daily Motion, and YouTube. 

The second match is set for 8 p.m. Eastern with Team Clark (Blue) facing Team Cruz (Gold). It will be shown on FS2, the Fox Sports network. 

On Sunday, the 6 p.m. match between Team Clark and Team Bastianelli can be seen on the CBS Sports Network. At 9 p.m., Team Cruz plays Team Sybeldon on FS1.

The player draft was conducted this past Tuesday. Sybeldon had the first pick and chose USA Olympian Jordan Larson.

“I’m feeling really good. We’ve had a few good days of practice and another opportunity today to continue develop chemistry on the court,” Sybeldon said. “I think we have a really great group of competitors and athletes, so I’m super fired up to step on the court with these girls.”

Clark chose opposite Ebony Nwanebu.

“I love the group that I put together,” Clark said. “We wanted a scrappy, high-energy, and fun team and I think I got exactly that. I’m really looking forward to getting out there and playing.”

Bastianelli picked outside hitter Bethania De La Cruz, an Olympian from the Dominican Republic.

“I think I speak for the team when I say we’re ready to play,” Bastianelli said. “I’m really excited to see what we can do this weekend.”

Cruz took setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson.

“I’m really excited how I selected my team,” Cruz said. “We’re working really hard.”

Deja McClendon serves during an AU practice

Here are the entire first-weekend rosters:

TEAM SYBELDON
Odina Aliyeva, OH
Lauren Gibbenmeyer, MB
Nia Grant, MB
Alex Holston, Opp
Kelly Hunter, S
Jordan Larson, OH,
Karsta Lowe, Opp
Kaylee Manns, S
Deja McClendon, OH
Dalianliz Rosado, L
Lianna Sybeldon, MB
TEAM BASTIANELLI
Nomaris Velez Agosto, L
Sherridan Atkinson, Opp
Ali Bastianelli, MB
Sheilla Castro, Opp
Cori Croker, MB
Bethania De La Cruz, OH
Brie King, S
Amanda Peterson, S
Lindsay Stalzer, OH
Holly Tolliver, OH
TEAM CLARK
Taylor Bruns, S
Tiffany Clark, L
Leah Edmond, OH
Sareea Freeman, Opp
Cassidy Lichtman, OH
Ci Michel, MB
Taylor Morgan, MB
Valerie Nichol, S
Ebony Nwanebu, Opp
Taylor Sandbothe, MB
Erica Wilson, OH
TEAM CRUZ
Symone Abbott, OH
Katie Carter, Opp
Aury Cruz, OH
Erin Fairs, OH
Erin Handley, S
Willow Johnson, Opp
Molly Lohman, MB
Molly McCage, MB
Samantha Seliger-Swenson, S
Kristen Tupac, L
Kristy Wieser, MB

The four coaches are Jamie Morrison, Tayyiba Haneef-Park, Joe Trinsey, and Tama Miyashiro. Read Megan Kaplon’s story about them here.

Sareea Freeman hits during an AU scrimmage

AU is touting itself as a pro league, but it’s more of a series of sophisticated, high-tech pick-up matches that has a chance to appeal to the American voilleyball fan. Of course, AU would rather have not had to launch both during a pandemic and when NCAA women’s volleyball has been moved to the spring.

AU has a deal with Topps, the sports-card trading company, and has procured various sponsors, including Geico, Guaranteed Rate, Mariner Wealth Advisors, Hyperice, and Gatorade. Nike is the uniform provider and AU will play with a Mikasa ball.

To read more about Athletes Unlimited Volleyball: https://auprosports.com/volleyball/

Can’t watch a match? Click here for a complete rundown of replays for the season. AU also has announced ESPN International, CBC Sports, FreeSports and Setanta Sports as broadcast outlets.

To follow Athletes Unlimited on social media and to watch streams:
Twitter.com/AUProSports
Facebook.com/AUProSports/
www.twitch.tv/auprosports
www.dailymotion.com/auprosports
www.youtube.com/c/AthletesUnlimited
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