June 23, 2024
Put near section about Asjia O'neal

New Columbus professional volleyball team shows promise for the future of women’s sports

The recently-established Pro Volleyball Federation (PVF) has brought a new team to the Columbus area, the Columbus Fury. The team is paving the way for a new market in Columbus: women’s volleyball.

The NCAA broke attendance records in 2023 for Division I women’s volleyball. The championship streamed on ABC and  averaged 1.7 million viewers, up 115% from 2022.

At the center of the championship was Texas Longhorns middle blocker Asjia O’Neal. O’Neal won back-to-back championships in 2022 and 2023, paving her way to becoming the 2023 number one overall pick in the PVF draft. Now, she plays for the Columbus Fury. 

For O’Neal, volleyball’s growth over her collegiate career was outstanding. 

“With the help of social media, volleyball was put on the forefront,” she said. “I’ve seen a bigger focus on people wanting to support women’s sports…it’s been really cool to see.”

As the only major professional volleyball league in the United States, O’Neal felt that playing in front of her supporters was a big factor in her choice to not play overseas. 

“[Playing overseas] is very cutthroat,” she said. “Playing overseas, it’s hard for people to keep up with you. I would say the main difference is being able to continue to build your image and brand as an athlete here in America.”

O’Neal also said she wants to use her brand to help other graduating collegiate volleyball players come to the PVF. For her, using her voice in the volleyball world to grow the PVF is something to take advantage of.

“I’m really hoping that we’re able to push for people who have already graduated and people who are graduating soon to invest and join the league,” she said. “I think the growth is going to be exponential.”

Going from sold-out arenas to a new league was always going to be an adjustment for O’Neal. She said although the factor is there, the focus is going to be on the culture of the team.

“Columbus is great, they really care about volleyball. For me, it really comes down to our focus and culture, getting each other riled up and not always having to rely on the crowd to feed you energy.”

Perez, pictured right, brought Carlos Cardona (left), his old Puerto Rican coach, to come to help be an assistant coach.

Arriving to the team on Jan. 12, 2023, the Fury wasn’t completely foreign to her. It was through her friends playing in Puerto Rico that she knew the Fury’s head coach, Ángel Perez, an experienced player and coach.

“Columbus found me,” Perez said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to coach a lot of American players that didn’t have a place to go, and Puerto Rico was the place for them. It was through my players that I got this opportunity.”

As a former player for the Puerto Rican national men’s volleyball team, Perez played volleyball overseas for more than 20 years, where he was able to learn multiple languages.

“I played in France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Japan…over there, it’s do or die,” Perez said. You have to learn [the language] or it’s eight months of hell, you can’t communicate. I only studied Spanish in school, so all the other languages I learned along the way.”

As someone who has seen the game of volleyball overseas, Perez said volleyball is growing in other countries, too. 

“I think it’s a worldwide trend,” he said. “The good thing about volleyball is that it’s the only sport in the world where the women are more popular than the men.”

Perez said he saw the growth firsthand in Puerto Rico.

“[For women’s games] It’s always sold out,” he said. “People pay a lot of money to get in, and then you go to a men’s game and entrance is even free. It’s been trending and growing…women’s sports in general is on the rise.”

Columbus Fury will compete in their first game of the season on Jan. 25 against Grand Rapids Rise at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Streaming information is available on Columbus Fury’s website.

Author

  • Clayton Hines

    Clayton is a first-year Criminology and Spanish Major. He is a Videographer for Capital and is an avid moviegoer. In his free time, he likes to watch sports and help his community by volunteering.

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