Foluke Akinradewo

Foluke Akinradewo, Jordan Larson
AP

U.S. women’s indoor volleyball league to begin play next year

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The top women’s indoor volleyball players in the U.S. will now have their own professional league at home, giving more athletes an opportunity to prolong their careers past college without having to go overseas.

They will get to help govern the league themselves, too.

Athletes Unlimited, in partnership with USA Volleyball, announced plans Wednesday for a six-week league to begin next February in an as-yet undetermined city in the Southeast. It won’t conflict with the U.S. team’s preparations ahead of next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“I’ve been a professional volleyball athlete for a decade now and every time we want to make a living and go play professionally we have to leave the country to do it, so to have Athletes Unlimited, not only having a shorter season, getting to play at home for the first time, it’s so special,” U.S. star Foluke Akinradewo, who has signed on to play, said during a telephone interview Wednesday.

“They’re empowering the athletes. We get to kind of determine the rules and we have a big say in things. It’s really the opposite of the life we’re living overseas.”

Some, like Akinradewo, still plan to play overseas. Fellow American Olympic teammate Jordan Larson will be part of the new league and she also plays professionally in China, while Akinradewo competes in Japan.

Molly McCage is another player who has committed. The three women will determine which 48 players are invited and set rules for the league, which will feature an innovative format without general managers or owners. Four captains will choose their teams one week then a points system from that week will determine the captains for the next week of competition.

“This is a sport that has a huge following around the world, close to a billion people play volleyball around the world. It has huge pro leagues in many countries, both on the women’s and men’s side,” said Jon Patricof, Athletes Unlimited CEO and co-founder. “For this to be the first pro indoor women’s league in the U.S. is tremendous and a huge moment for the sport.”

Athletes Unlimited has also launched a pro softball league.

Akinradewo is a new mom with a 5-month-old son, so the flexibility to be home more in the U.S. will mean a lot. She expects the new league will keep more players involved and grow the game domestically.

Akinradewo and the No. 1 Americans earned bronze at the Rio Olympics four years ago. Initially, the league will feature only U.S. players but there is a possibility to expand down the road.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer as to why people would want to sign on to this,” Akinradewo said. “It’s just a different look at the game of volleyball as we know it.”

MORE: Jordan Larson preps for her last Olympics

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Down a star, USA women’s volleyball loses thriller to drop into bronze match

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An almost unbelievable match in Rio saw the USA women’s volleyball team fall 3-2 after a valiant comeback fell just short at the Olympics on Thursday.

The Americans will now face China or the Netherlands for bronze on Saturday after losing 20-25, 25-17, 25-21, 16-25, 13-15.

The United States took the first set 25-20, but quickly found itself wobbling after an injury to star Foluke Akinradewo.

WATCH: Full match replay

Serbia dominated the second set 25-17 and blazed out to a 8-1 start in the third set. The Americans wouldn’t go away, and forced leading Serbia into a timeout at 22-20. That settled them down, and it finished 25-21.

At that point, it seemed Serbia’s Brankica Mihajlovic and Tijana Boskovic would be living in USA volleyball’s nightmares for a long, long time. The spikers were dominant in two sets that gave Serbia a 2-1 lead en route.

Karch Kiraly’s Yanks were not bowed, though, coming back to decisively win the fourth set 25-16. But Serbia rallied to win despite some final set heroics from Karsta Lowe.

Olympic roster set for top-ranked U.S. women’s volleyball team

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U.S. women have never won an Olympic indoor volleyball gold medal, but the 12 athletes named Tuesday to the 2016 squad will be among the favorites to do just that. The Americans are the reigning world champions and ranked No. 1 entering the Rio Games.

Karcy Kiraly, who will be a head coach in the Olympics for the first time, selected a roster consisting of just four players who competed in the 2012 Olympics. The U.S. women took silver in London after losing to Brazil in the final for the second consecutive Games. Brazil, which will have a decided home-court advantage in Rio, also defeated the U.S. in five sets on Sunday in the final of the 2016 FIVB World Grand Prix.

The squad will be led by outside hitter Jordan Larson, the 2015 USA Volleyball Female Indoor Player of the Year. Also returning from the 2012 team are middle blockers Foluke Akinradewo and Christa Dietzen (nee Harmotto), and setter Courtney Thompson.

The eight newcomers are outside hitters Kim Hill and Kelsey Robinson, middle blocker Rachael Adams, opposite hitters Karsta Lowe and Kelly Murphy, setters Alisha Glass and Carli Lloyd, and libero Kayla Banwarth.

Hill was most valuable player at the 2014 FIVB World Championship. Everyone except Lowe and Lloyd was on that World Championship team, which won the program’s first-ever gold medal in the event.

The average age of the 12 women is 27.0 years old. Thompson, 31, is the oldest, and Lowe, 23, is the youngest.

“We aspire to be a team that adds up to far more than the sums of our parts,” Kiraly said in a release. “We are extremely fortunate to have so many great people and great players who give us so much passion and effort to this program – and we will look to honor their contributions by competing our hardest in Rio. Ultimately, we have assembled a group that we believe is capable of embracing the challenges a tournament like the Olympics will surely present.”

Kiraly, a U.S. women’s assistant coach in 2012, could become the first person to win Olympic gold as a volleyball player and coach. He already is the only player to win Olympic gold in both indoor (1984, 1988) and beach volleyball (1996). China’s women’s head coach, Lang Ping, could accomplish the same feat in Rio.

Kiraly will be assisted on the bench by Jamie Morrison, Tom Black and David Hunt.

MORE: U.S. Olympic men’s volleyball team named