Since its inception in March 2020, Athletes Unlimited (AU) has provided female athletes the option to extend their pro careers in the United States through their innovative leagues. Former USC opposite Nikia Withers recently completed her first season with the AU Volleyball league.
“I was really excited,” Withers said. “With this being the first professional volleyball league in the United States.”
AU Volleyball has a format that caters more to athletes than a typical sports league. The season lasts for five weeks, the team who won the most points in all the sets played will win the match. The players’ gameplay is put on a point system, players earn and lose points based on their stats and errors. Winning sets and matches also give them points. Players must also choose the top three players from their team after every match, the top three players with the most votes also score points.
“My strategy was like who played the best defense, who scored the most points, and who overall played the best game,” Withers said about how she voted. “When I would do my rankings, I would pick a hitter, a defender, and a setter.”
The four players with the highest scores at the end of each week will become captains. The captains then draft their team from the pool of AU Volleyball players to compete the next week. Each week not only brought a new team but different playing styles and energy, according to Withers.
“In volleyball, that’s very uncommon to switch teams like that,” she said. “I think that it was exciting to us because we didn’t know what we were gonna get each week.”
Each captain gets a facilitator who acts as a coach; the captains can decide whether to have the facilitator be the coach or coach the team themselves.
“I think that once you get to a certain level, especially professionally, most of the players know what they’re doing anyway,” Withers said. “In this style of play, they weren’t necessarily needed, but we did need them.”
Players also compete for a charity of their choice. Each player’s cause or charity will receive a donation that equals half of the player’s end-of-season bonus amounts. Withers chose the One Love Foundation, a non-profit that battles relationship abuse.
Withers competed at Cal State Fullerton during her freshman year before transferring to USC. During her sophomore year, the Women of Troy Volleyball team was fourth in national rankings and had a 33-3 overall record. During that season, Withers made 15 kills with a 0.154 hitting percentage, six digs, and five blocks in a span of 12 matches. A fond memory that Withers has for that year was their trip to Europe.
“We played different clubs in Iceland, Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany,” Withers said.
Athlete’s Unlimited also has pro leagues for basketball, lacrosse and softball. For more information, visit auprosports.com