Ian Satterfield always envisioned an experience playing professional indoor volleyball overseas. It didn’t necessarily have to be a career, but a year or two, maybe a small contract, would have been nice.
A South Bay kid, Satterfield competed for the famed Mira Costa High School, which straddles the border of Manhattan and Hermosa Beach, Calif., helping the Mustangs to a pair of Bay League titles and a division championship in 2008. He’d land an offer to compete for Long Beach State, where he was teammates with a few brothers bearing the last name of Crabb, finishing his senior season with a 22-10 record and a little more than two kills per set.
But when graduation came, no contract offers came with it.
He took to the beach instead, representing the United States in the 2015 Pan American Games and cashing his first AVP check in 2017, when he qualified for the Austin main draw with Orlando Irizarry. Up the AVP ladder he climbed from there, beginning the majority of tournaments directly into the main draw in 2018 and 2019.
Indoor was out of his mind.
Until, just a few weeks ago, David Lee gave him a call.
“There’s an indoor league starting up in India,” Lee told him. “It could be a sweet gig for us to do in the off-season before we come back and start training again.”
“I said ‘Wow that’s super cool, thanks for reaching out,’ ” Satterfield recalled. “I never got to play professional indoor overseas anywhere after college, so I was like ‘Yeah, hell yeah, count me in.’ He didn’t even say how much, I just said ‘I’m in, let’s do it.’”
And thus Satterfield’s long lost professional indoor career was born, beginning with the RuPay Prime Volleyball League in, of all places, Kochi, India. He still doesn’t know when he’s supposed to leave, only that the initial date was scheduled for January 15. He doesn’t know the schedule yet, or how long he’ll even be in India.
All he knows is there’s volleyball to be played, and money to be made doing it.
“To me, it sounds like the best case scenario when it comes to playing indoor overseas,” Satterfield said. “It’s a shortened season, we’re in a popular city, we’re all going to be in the same boat, the same area.”
Satterfield will be joined in India by a host of fellow Americans, many of whom were also plucked off the beach: Kyle Friend, Ryan Meehan, Cody Caldwell, Bruno Amorim, Aaron Koubi, Colton Cowell, Matt August, Noah Taitano, and Lee, who has been serving as a de facto agent for the group.
In 2019, Lee, alongside former Olympic teammate Paul Lotman, competed in the RuPay Pro Volleyball League, an initiative between the Volleyball Federation of India, Head Digital Works Pvt. Ltd. and Baseline Ventures. Matches were broadcast by Sony Pictures Networks, and the players were, by all accounts, handsomely paid. The experience was a unanimous positive.
COVID, of course, did its worst on live sporting events in 2020 and 2021, but RuPay injected another round of funds into the league, coined the Prime Volleyball League, restarting it again in 2022.
The RuPay Prime Volleyball League is comprised of seven teams — Ahmedabad Defenders, Calicut Heroes, Chennai Blitz, Black Hawks Hyderabad, Kochi Blue Spikers, Bengaluru Torpedoes, Kolkata Thunderbolts — in cities across India.
They just needed players to fill out those rosters.
“When Dave asked if I was interested, I said ‘Are you sure they’re looking for a retired indoor player from five years ago?’” Friend said, laughing. “My first thought was no I don’t think so. But then I thought ‘How long? Six weeks? Ok.’ I have some flexibility with work, I think it’s possible I could get away for six weeks. A week later he put me in contact with India and I have a contract.”
So Friend, who hasn’t played indoor since his final contract in Switzerland expired in 2017, is a professional indoor volleyball player again.
“The minute we got the contract filled out I said ‘Ok, let’s get the body ready, let’s start jumping around, feeling out the indoor court. Let’s start doing stuff with shoes on,’” Friend said, alluding to the beach-to-indoor transition many of the Americans will be making.
For the past five years, Friend has been playing on the AVP Tour, on the soft and cushy surface of the sand, barefoot, with just one other player on the court, which is considerably smaller. Satterfield, too, has been exclusively on the beach, as has Lee, though with four indoor Olympics on his resume and the unofficial title as Best American Middle, it doesn’t take much time for him to get the indoor legs back.
“The first day I went to VIBE [Volleyball Lab, in El Segundo, Ca.], went in there for an hour and he hit down balls, served, passed, and it felt rusty, it felt shaky,” Friend said. “You needed to hold the angle harder because the ball is heavier. It required more resistance because on the beach it’s so squishy and light. I was like ‘Oh my God, this is hard.’ My forearms were hurting. But I went back the next day and it felt a lot better.”
It will only get better from here. The Americans are still waiting on their visas, so when they’ll go remains something of a mystery. But when they do? It’ll be a long flight, a quick quarantine, and then?
Back to indoor volleyball.
“My body will be moving, I’ll still be touching a volleyball, it will just be a slightly different vibe,” Friend said. “It will be physically demanding and still rewarding. The timing is tip top. Everything kinda fell into place.”
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