VNL 2024 schedule announced; USA women have Texas stop, men play in Canada
December 8, 2023
October 20, 2023
Claire Chaussee has yet to play a minute in the USA women’s national team’s gym, but aspires to do so.
Eye-popping performances in the first two weeks of Athlete Unlimited’s volleyball season certainly haven’t hurt her odds of getting on the radar of coach Karch Kiraly and his national-team staff. Perhaps word might even filter down to Karch through the six members of his program playing with AU — Sydney Hilley, Morgan Hentz, Brooke Nuneviller, Danielle Hart, Nia Reed and Kendall White – that Chausee just could be worth a look.
“I haven’t been in (the gym with the national team) and I haven’t been asked, so we will wait and see,” Chaussee said. “But playing with these girls (on the national-team roster) here is definitely going to help me. Just being able to hear about their experiences, I’m definitely intrigued, and I believe that would be a great opportunity for me.”
Less than a year out of college after a spectacular career that lifted Louisville’s program to dizzying new heights, she has gained meaningful professional repetitions as an AU rookie while ringing up big numbers and quickly earning the respect of her pay-for-play peers. On Tuesday, Chaussee was the first player picked in the AU draft — for the second week in a row — and she has been voted first MVP in three of her six AU matches.
Athletes Unlimited’s third-week round-robin will be held Friday, Sunday and Monday at Legacy Park in Mesa, Arizona. Three matches will be streamed on ESPN+, and the two on Sunday and the nightcap on Monday will air on cable ESPNU. The captains this week are Hilley, Hentz, Leah Edmond and Jenna Rosenthal.
The first middle blocker to wear the captain’s mantle in Athletes Unlimited, Rosenthal selected Chaussee first overall, no doubt hoping for the same explosive point scoring on the pins that has moved the 6-0 outside hitter from 11th in the standings after Week 1 to sixth place after Week 2, two spots out of a potential captaincy.
“I’m looking forward to playing with this team in general,” Chaussee said. “Jenna has put together a really good group and I’m eager to see what we can do. We have a lot of older, more mature, smart players on the team, so I’m excited about that.”
A significant news item hit before the draft. Superstar Bethania De La Cruz, the top point-scorer after two weeks of competition, will be out this week after being recalled by the Dominican Republic’s national team for duty in the Pan American Games. That seemingly provides the 23-year-old Chaussee with a chance to make hay while “Betty” is away, even if Chaussee’s focus is more about helping her team win than on the leaderboard.
“I’ve learned that team wins are more important than individual points,” she said. “So if you can mentally just get out of your own head, not focus just on what you’re doing, but look more at the whole team, then you’re going to have more success. Even if I hit .500 and have 25 kills, but my team lost, I’m probably not going to move up much.”
Rosenthal is a shining example of the value of “team points” in AU’s non-traditional format, best described as an individual competition within a team structure. Rosenthal has totaled 1,423 points, good for fifth in the standings, with 1,000 coming from having played on two undefeated squads. She assumed one of the four captains’ roles when De La Cruz was made inactive.
The former Marquette star snapped up Alisha Childress in the second round (eighth overall), making her the first setter picked. Childress, 35, an Olympic bronze medalist with the USA women’s national team in 2016 and a gold medalist in the World Championships in 2014, will be Chaussee’s third setter in as many weeks.
Claire and Hilley had clicked so well last weekend that Chaussee ripped 24 kills in their opening match and twice was honored as MVP1. She said that Hilley could “sauce me a buttery set,” as evidenced by her 16.3 kills per match and .246 hitting percentage.
Although she will have to adjust to Childress’ style, Chaussee hopes to feast on delicious setting from the accomplished veteran.
“Alisha likes to run the tempo a little bit faster,” Chaussee said. “Sydney likes to put a little more arc on the ball. With my hitting style, especially because I’m a little bit undersized, I would rather max jump every time I swing so that I can get above the block. I always tell my setters that as long as it’s high enough and I can get my feet there, we should be fine.”
Chaussee sees establishing a hitting rhythm from behind the 10-foot line as a key to Team Rosenthal’s success.
“Getting into practice with Alisha (on Wednesday and Thursday), we’ll work on our connection, especially from the back row,” she said. “What made (opponents) realize that Sydney and I had that connection was because our back-row hitting was so good. If Alisha and I can do that this week, we should have really good options going from back row to the middle and all of our pins.”
Chaussee played in the Italian League for the CBF Balducci HR Macerata team after the completion of the 2022 NCAA season, in which her Louisville squad fell in the title match to Texas. She is gratified to be back in the States.
“Going overseas at first was a big change,” she admitted. “I’ve never lived alone, didn’t know the language. Overall, it went well for me. I learned a lot about myself outside of volleyball and what I wanted. However, I’m definitely happy that the U.S. has AU and is starting other leagues. It’s been great to be able to connect again with fans and people outside of the gym.”
After the five-week AU season, Chaussee will join the Grand Rapids Rise in the nascent Pro Volleyball Federation, and she is stoked to get in on the ground floor.
“I’m excited to move to Michigan and be there for longer than the month or so that we are here,” Claire said. “I’m excited to get in the gym with the coaching staff and the other girls, and see what we can create with this new league. No one really knows how it’s going to go. So I’m eager to have a lot of firsts with the PVF and the Grand Rapids team.”