By Aaron Hutton for VolleyballMag.com
There’s a good Vibe in Atlanta, more players have signed with the budding pro volleyball leagues, teams are making moves, and we visited with former Stanford great and Athletes Unlimited director of sport Cassidy Lichtman.
We’ll start with Pro Volleyball Federation news.
The Atlanta franchise, which took advantage of having AVP Atlanta in its backyard this past weekend, will be known as the Atlanta Vibe.
“We wanted a name that reflects our city,” Vibe owner Colleen Craig said.” In order to accomplish that, a city-wide naming contest was conducted, returning well over 1,000 submissions with one that stood out to us the most – the Atlanta Vibe.”
The announcement was made at the Atlantic Station, site of the AVP event, with two of the team’s celebrity investors on hand, Olympic great hurdler Edwin Moses and beach legend Sinjin Smith.
Atlanta also recently announced that coach Todd Dagenais has hired Brian Doyon, who was one of his assistants at UCF the past seven years.
The Vibe will be playing at Gas South Arena in the suburb of Duluth and will share the facility with the National Lacrosse League’s Georgia Swarm and the East Coast Hockey League’s Atlanta Gladiators.
The Columbus Fury has been busy. The franchise named David Paitson its CEO. He comes from the pro hockey world.
“I saw first-hand how this community took to the sport of hockey when it was in its infancy, and I fully expect the same to happen with women’s professional volleyball,” Paitson said.
The Fury also signed Gabby Blossom, the former Penn State setter who as a graduate transfer took San Diego to last year’s NCAA national semifinals, and former Ohio State outside Ashley Wenz.
“Being from Ohio, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to play high school and college volleyball here. Having left, I know Ohio really draws you back,” said Wenz, who played a season of beach at Arizona State.
“I’m extremely excited to continue to represent the town and state I love.”
Omaha last week announced it will be called the Supernovas.
Dallas was also introduced as one of the PVF franchises, but it won’t play until 2025.
PVF, which begins play next February, also has first-season franchises in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Orlando (team-name announcement coming later this month) and San Diego. One more team will play in 2024 with an announcement coming on that franchise soon.
AU, which skipped a season, resumes October 3. AU fields four teams that play each week. After each round of three matches, the four players who score the most points as individuals become captains for the next week and they draft new teams.
Brazillian outside Wélissa “Sassá” Gozaga is joining AU for the first time. AU previously announced the return of defending-champion Bethania De La Cruz, Tori Dixon, Morgan Hentz (the 2022 defensive player of the year), and Nootsara Tomkom.
We recently got to visit with Cassidy Litchtman, AU’s director of sport.
The former Stanford great, who played in AU’s first two seasons, was with the USA national team from 2011-16 and her pro career took her to China, Switzerland, Poland and Azerbaijan. These are some of the highlights of our conversation.
Lichtman: “After playing the first two seasons as a player and being a member of the player executive committee, I felt positive about the vision and direction of Athletes Unlimited. So, when the previous director stepped down to pursue a NCAA opportunity, I decided to pursue my own role within the organization.
VBM: Say I’m new to volleyball and I’m following AU for the first time this season. What am I about to experience and how do I get the most from watching on ESPN’s platforms?
Lichtman: Athletes Unlimited is designed with fans of individual athletes in mind. This is an individual competition within a team sport setting. So, after each game you can view our leader board at ausports.com/leaderboard and view how those individual players are stacking up. When the week is up, the top performing athletes will be selected as team captains and will re-draft the teams, so it’s truly about player performance over team dynamic.
VBM: Do offensive positions earn points the same way defensive positions due?
Lichtman: Technically, yes. You can see our scoring system at ausport.com/volleyball/how-we-play-volleyball, but, essentially we’ve used historical data from international competitions to assure the scoring system was fair to every position.
VBM: I’ve heard some say that AU isn’t a league. How would you categorize it?
Lichtman: We may not be a traditional league, but we play six games per week and our players are paid professionals, so I would call us a “league.”
VBM: ESPN asked you to move your season recently. Serindipitously, this has allowed players signed with the Pro Volleyball Federation to also sign with AU. Organizations like PVF and League One Volleyball will inevitably cause the number of American pro volleyball players to increase exponentially. Has there been any discussions of expanding AU Volleyball’s player pool from 44?
Lichtman: There’s always possibilities for change, but we believe 44 is good for now. There are logistical challenges if we add more teams. But, never say never.
VBM: I understand there’s a documentary in development?
Lichtman: Yes. Boardwalk Pictures has made an agreement with us. We expect them to be with us this fall if we can get it green-lit soon enough.
VBM: That sounds exciting. Was there anything you’d like to add?
Lichtman: This is a very exciting time for our sport on this country. Three leagues means more opportunities for our players and fans, and, I think we can find ways for all three organizations to build volleyball from being the biggest sport no one talks about to something really special.
For more on AU volleyball: https://auprosports.com/volleyball/