Atlanta Vibe volleyball excited for Thursday’s home opener

Members of the Atlanta Vibe react after winning their inaugural match at Omaha on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Vibe)

Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

Members of the Atlanta Vibe react after winning their inaugural match at Omaha on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Vibe)

Gas South Arena in Duluth seemed vacant and out-of-sorts Tuesday afternoon. The 13,000-seat venue was quiet on the outskirts, as a few workers rummaged through the concourse. The ice rink was covered with new flooring, the glass walls were gone and the space was filled partially with blue sectional sofas.

Less than 20 feet away from the furniture, though, the arena’s changes all made sense. There was a loud commotion of laughter, blown whistles and volleyballs bouncing around.

It was the Atlanta Vibe, the city’s first pro women’s indoor volleyball team, practicing before their home opener against the San Diego Mojo on Thursday night.

The arena was in the midst of being transformed from a hockey rink to a volleyball court.

“If you like sports, like fast action ... appreciate women’s sports and the athletic ability of some of the best female athletes in the world, come see it,” Vibe coach Todd Dagenais said. “It’s going to be nothing they’ve ever seen before.”

The Vibe are a part of the Pro Volleyball Federation’s seven-team inaugural season, giving volleyball players the opportunity to perform at the highest level professionally without leaving the country. The team is owned by Atlanta businesswoman Colleen Durham Craig.

Each roster consists of players ranging from recent college graduates to some coming out of retirement. Players were signed either through free agency or as a part of the PVF’s five-round draft in December.

Vibe outside hitter Leah Edmond was the league’s first signee, in May. She was enticed by the opportunity to make history and help future generations, especially in a sport with not many Black women like herself.

“Little girls can be like, ‘No, I want to go play professional volleyball!’” Edmond said. “Being able to create a foundation and give them a chance and bring a sport that we love so much … is really special and definitely something I wanted to be a part of.”

When Edmond heard about the league, she reached out to Morgan Hentz, one of PVF’s “player ambassadors” and a future teammate. Hentz, who has played for Team USA, was one of six prominent volleyball players whom league officials consulted on matters such as how the league would be structured, contracts, travel, schedules and more – and to try to attract other players to the league.

From there, Edmond went to the league’s headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, met the PVF’s founders and CEO and left with her mind made up: she wanted in.

Hentz’s and Edmond’s decisions already are paying off. The Vibe are 2-0, while Edmond and Hentz were named to the preseason all-league team. The team’s first contest against the Omaha Supernovas had an announced attendance of 11,624, a record for fans at a women’s professional volleyball match in the United States.

Edmond said the team is going into Thursday’s matchup blind because the Mojo haven’t played a game yet, but the Vibe players are stoked for it.

“Atlanta goes crazy for their teams, so we’re hoping that we get that same type of support,” Edmond said. “We want to bring ATL to the court. We want to bring that swagger, the culture, all of that.”

Both of the Vibe’s contests have been close so far, playing five sets each game and winning by no more than three points every set. Edmond described the team as resilient and fiery, and believes the group embraces what the city of Atlanta is.

Before PVF, Dagenais considered that the only opportunity to coach professional volleyball was in Europe. But encouraged by early signs of success for the league, he’s anxious to see what their home crowd has to offer.

“I want us to be one of those places that people absolutely fear coming into … because it’s packed,” Dagenais said. “They want to see another quality sports team competing for championships with their name, with their city on it, and that’s what we want to do.”