The Pro Volleyball Federation league for women makes its debut It's a new league and a new era for women's volleyball. The Pro Volleyball Federation held its first match in Nebraska. The seven team league will add three more teams in 2025.

The Pro Volleyball Federation for women debuts and draws a record crowd

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AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

One of the most popular sports for girls and women is volleyball. For years, players who wanted to play professionally had to go overseas. But that's changing. And this week, the Pro Volleyball Federation made its debut. Greg Echlin was there for the inaugural match between the Atlanta Vibe and the Omaha Supernovas.

GREG ECHLIN, BYLINE: The Pro Volleyball Federation had been in the works for more than a year, but the timing for its debut came down to seizing the momentum from last August, when more than 92,000 attended an outdoor college volleyball match. It was at the University of Nebraska's football stadium in nearby Lincoln, and volleyball fan Amy Schofield was in the stands.

AMY SCHOFIELD: You can have another volleyball game there, but you can't recreate the first time that you filled that up. It was truly, truly an incredible experience.

ECHLIN: It inspired Schofield to attend the Omaha Supernovas' first match against the Atlanta Vibe, along with her niece, Amy Pichler.

AMY PICHLER: It's very exciting to get to be at the opening night of our first pro volleyball team. That's awesome.

ECHLIN: Pichler wore a red Nebraska Cornhuskers T-shirt, and as she headed to the souvenir stand, she said she had pushed her aunt to get to the match early.

PICHLER: We wanted to make sure there weren't a line, but I also want to pick up some new gear to wear right away.

ECHLIN: Not long after they entered the arena, blending in with more than 11,000 fans, both wore T-shirts of their new favorite pro team, with the Omaha Supernova team colors of midnight blue, pink, and magenta.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I got it.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE BLOWING)

ECHLIN: It was down to the wire in a dramatic five-set match, with the Atlanta Vibe beating the Omaha team. Despite the loss, Supernovas coach Shelton Collier was ecstatic about the turnout. Of the seven cities in the league, Collier says Omaha, with its heavy concentration of volleyball fans, was the right choice to host the Pro Volleyball Federation's first match.

SHELTON COLLIER: I think the other cities are going to have to work hard to get good crowds. This is setting the bar really high.

ECHLIN: Even players from the visiting Atlanta Vibe were impressed by the atmosphere. Leah Edmond, an outside hitter who played college volleyball at Kentucky, previously played as a pro in Puerto Rico. She's happy to be playing closer to home.

LEAH EDMOND: Now, to get on the court and, like, see a packed facility - even though it wasn't for us. It was for Omaha. But to see that and kind of the surreal moment of, we're playing, like, professional volleyball in the States.

ECHLIN: Many of the top volleyball players in the U.S. continue to play professionally overseas. Pro Volleyball Federation CEO Jen Spicher knows that there are plenty taking a wait-and-see attitude.

JEN SPICHER: The biggest challenge that I think our league has faced is the skepticism of the volleyball community, and I understand it. I understand this has been tried a couple times, but this is different.

ECHLIN: It's different because in this league, each ownership group has invested an undisclosed entry fee. The ultimate goal is to keep the best professional volleyball players in the States. The Pro Volleyball Federation debut now means that there will soon be three women's indoor pro volleyball leagues up and running. The other two are Athletes United (ph) and League One Volleyball, which premieres in November.

For NPR News, I'm Greg Echlin.

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