When Athletes Unlimited debuted its women’s professional volleyball league earlier this year amid a pandemic, questions surrounded the operation’s sustainability. Even though women’s volleyball has swiftly become the one of the widest participated sports at the high school and college levels, could these enthusiasts be converted into fans of a new league?
After picking up over 70,000 new followers on social media, plus an additional 18 million views across Instagram and Facebook, Athletes Unlimited saw a healthy enough appetite to tackle a sophomore season of women’s volleyball in 2022.
The five-week season starts on March 16 at the Fair Park Coliseum in Dallas, Texas, this time with fans in attendance. Fans who followed the league will recognize many familiar faces, as nearly half the league’s athletes will return for a second season.
“As the only professional indoor women’s volleyball league in the United States, we’re beyond thrilled to welcome back 17 players from season one and seven new players who will be joining the league for the first time,” Athletes Unlimited CEO Jon Patricof said.
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Among the returning players will be 2020 Team USA Tokyo Olympic Gold Medalist and Athletes Unlimited’s inaugural champion Jordan Larson, Cassidy Lichtman and Aury Cruz. After an impressive Olympic performance, Larson is looking forward to warming up the crowds after playing last season in an empty arena.
“Athletes Unlimited provides the premier platform for women’s pro volleyball players in the United States,” Larson said. “I’m beyond excited to have the opportunity to return to Dallas and play in front of the incredible community of volleyball fans and players in the region and beyond. That coupled with some of the new athletes joining the league will make for a can’t-miss season.”
Athletes Unlimited is taking another step forward for the 2022 season with its college draft. On December 17th at 7PM EST on Facebook and YouTube, Athletes Unlimited will conduct its inaugural draft, selecting 15 players who have completed their eligibility in 2021. The draft will infuse fresh faces into the league alongside recent signees Morgan Hentz and Kalei Mau.
The league’s partnerships included Gatorade, GEICO, Hyperice and Nike NKE for its debut season, as well as televised matches on CBS Sports and Fox Sports Net. As Athletes Unlimited expands its reach during its second campaign, Player Executive Committee chair Cassidy Lichtman considers this return as a favorable sign for the sport’s professional health.
“I feel like we can build on the experience of last season and make it even better,” Lichtman said. “Season one was great because it was something new, but season two means that we’re building something that hopefully will last for a while. Having a season two for us given the difficulty that volleyball has had in the professional space in the past is just exciting, as we’re trying to build something real.”