Kayla Caffey revs up her professional volleyball profession with Athletes Limitless

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Kayla Caffey assaults in opposition to Baylor through the 2022 Texas season/Texas photograph

With an infectious snigger and flashing a broad smile, Kayla Caffey admitted she was “embarrassed” that her collegiate profession spanned seven years “as a result of I performed for soooo lengthy.”

However its end result as an NCAA champion with the Texas Longhorns allowed Caffey to, as she mentioned, “retire in peace, everybody. Goodbye!”

Her retirement didn’t final lengthy.

Bringing a sunny character that lights up a room and fast-twitch athleticism that illuminates the court docket, Caffey’s newest profession transfer is as a member of the 44-player roster for Athletes Limitless’s third season that can begin on Friday, Saturday and Monday in Mesa, Arizona. Matches might be seend on the ESPN+ streaming platform and the ESPNU cable TV channel.

The transitions made by Caffey throughout her seven-year school marathon at Missouri, Nebraska and Texas determine to pay dividends within the skilled Athletes Limitless — greatest described as a person competitors in a team-sports setting — wherein captains choose new groups in every of the season’s 5 weeks.

The draft by first-week captains Bethania De La Cruz, Natalia Valentin-Anderson, Nootsara Tomkom, and Leah Edmond is scheduled for Tuesday.

“Each week, you’ll be on a brand new crew and I’ve been on many various groups, as have lots of the different women,” Caffey mentioned. “Since I had a lot time in school, I didn’t get that skilled expertise that they’ve underneath their belts, despite the fact that I might have been enjoying professional for the final three years, since school is simply imagined to be 4 years and I performed seven. So, sure, my expertise in transferring twice positively will assist me.”

Kayla Caffey throughout Athletes Limitless media day/Jade Hewitt, Athletes Limitless

Caffey gained loads of big-match repetitions as a collegian, enjoying in NCAA tournaments with Missouri and Nebraska earlier than being a contributor to Texas’ NCAA title final winter. A 6-foot center blocker with excessive hops, Caffey was a second-team AVCA All-American in 2021 when the Huskers misplaced in 5 units to Wisconsin within the NCAA ultimate watched by a file 1.18 million TV viewers.

Every step the product of Mom McAuley in Chicago took by means of the switch portal introduced positives. Her seven seasons included a redshirt in 2016 as a freshman at Missouri, a medical-redshirt yr misplaced to harm with the Tigers of the Southeastern Convention in 2018 and extra eligibility granted by the NCAA due to COVID.

“I transferred to Nebraska throughout COVID and it was a loopy time,” Caffey, 25, mentioned. “I by no means even visited the campus. We simply did all of it on Zoom. However I’m actually glad that I made the change from Missouri, as a result of Mizzou had given me all that it needed to supply, and I wanted to take that subsequent step with a purpose to change into a greater participant. Large Ten volleyball is a whole-nother ballgame with the dimensions and the pace and the whole lot, even like services, the teaching that you simply get and the competitors that you simply’re enjoying each week.

“Then the transition from Nebraska to Texas was loopy as properly. (Nebraska coach John Prepare dinner) had requested me to take my seventh season. I actually didn’t wish to take that seventh season, as a result of I had already performed for soooo lengthy, I used to be embarrassed. The final season at Nebraska, we fell simply brief that one recreation. We have been so shut and I used to be so crushed on the finish of that season.”

However the script flipped when Texas went 28-1 in 2022 and swept Louisville within the NCAA title match, with Caffey beginning within the center through the ultimate and main the Longhorns in blocks with 4.

“To come back again with Texas and win it on that stage was so superior,” she mentioned. “That complete season was superb the best way all of it got here collectively. Enjoying with unbelievable teammates like Logan (Eggleston) and Asjia (O’Neal) and Madi (Skinner) and Saige (Ka’aha’aina-Torres) and Zoe (Fleck), everybody on that crew. It was such an incredible program and that we have been in a position to win all of it simply put the cherry on high. It was the right solution to finish my profession. I felt completely satisfied lastly retiring after seven years. I couldn’t retire till I had a championship. So now I can retire in peace, everybody. Goodbye!”

Between the top of the Longhorns’ season and the beginning of observe with Athletes Limitless in September, she performed for the Criollas de Caguas crew, a perennial energy within the Puerto Rican professional league. She additionally labored in its place trainer at a South Aspect elementary faculty in her native Chicago, and helped coach Jerritt Elliott’s Texas squad put together for this season by serving as a observe participant.

Caffey jumped on the alternative to signal with Athletes Limitless. Through the brief time spent in Arizona working towards together with her friends, she has change into “so excited. I love AU’s format. It’s actually, actually cool.

“There’s a draft each week. It’s actually player-driven. I’ve been right here for a few week and so they’ve already had so many workshops for us, simply to make us higher people, to coach us on matters world wide, serving to us change into extra conscious. It’s additionally actually cool that they’ve these facilitator-coaches who are available in and have our observe deliberate out. Nevertheless it’s not what you must do. It’s very totally different than school. They’re giving us the autonomy that skilled volleyball ought to have. If it’s good to, you possibly can care for your physique, step out of shape if it’s good to go do therapy. I completely love the surroundings.”

Caffey additionally has been impressed by the “mindblowing” expertise assembled by Athletes Limitless.

“I performed at two pinnacles of school volleyball and I can inform the distinction,” she mentioned. “There may be a lot expertise on this fitness center, it’s unreal. These are grown ladies! The power, the expertise, the data of the sport, I really feel like virtually a freshman in school once more. That is all new to me. Others have performed abroad and so they have extra expertise in that skilled setting than I do. Day by day I’m simply so grateful to be right here.”

The AU aggressive construction awards factors for particular person statistics similar to kills, aces, assists, digs and blocks, and subtracts factors for errors. “Group” factors are also earned by successful units and for match victories. The champion of the league is the participant who accrues essentially the most factors over the course of the season’s 15 matches, three per week. Caffey is sensible about her lengthy odds of copping high honors, and even being one of many 4 weekly crew captains.

“A center has by no means, ever been the captain due to the points-scoring desk,” she mentioned. “Middles don’t get that many balls, so it’s actually onerous for us to be the captain. However with the draft and the possibility to play with totally different gamers, totally different mixtures, It would by no means get boring.”

A number of months after the AU season concludes, Caffey will proceed within the pay-for-play ranks with the Skilled Volleyball Federation, a startup enterprise that hopes to capitalize on the rising curiosity within the sport seen in metrics similar to attendance, TV viewership and participation on the high-school stage.

She has signed with the Grand Rapids Rise, which not too long ago introduced the addition of seashore Olympian Sarah Sponcil. The west Michigan membership additionally has signed former Louisville star Claire Chaussee and veteran center Nia Grant.

Caffey spoke with unbridled optimism about enjoying professional ball at dwelling — quite than abroad — which had been the one viable possibility for American collegiate stars.

“It’s so thrilling!” Kayla mentioned. “I used to be requested on a regular basis in school, the seven years I used to be there, if I had the need to play skilled volleyball, and lots of the time my reply was, ‘I don’t know.’ I didn’t know that I wished to play professional volleyball in any respect till the final season that I spent at Nebraska. At that time, that was my sixth yr, and that was largely due to the massive surge in curiosity in ladies’s volleyball in the USA.

“I had heard nothing, truthfully, however unfavourable issues about abroad ball, despite the fact that it’s ‘an incredible expertise, this, that and the opposite.’ However lots of people simply discuss the way it’s onerous, you’re there by your self, and it’s tradition shock. That simply didn’t sound inviting to me, one thing that I wished to do.

“However I knew I wished to play at that subsequent stage, so each time I discovered about AU after which there was PVF, sure, it’s a enormous change on this nation’s (volleyball panorama).” Caffey added. “It’s a super-cool alternative and I simply can’t wait to see what this continues to develop into. I’m planning on staying right here and doing the home route. I feel all the Individuals are going to wish to come dwelling and simply play on our soil.

“Volleyball has grown enormously. There have been makes an attempt earlier than to have professional volleyball leagues that couldn’t hold on, however the sport simply wasn’t that large but. This can be a good time for it. That may play an enormous position in why I’m assured it is going to stick.”

The logistics of enjoying simply throughout Lake Michigan from her dwelling appealed to Caffey, and she or he has gotten to know a few of her future Rise teammates who are also on Athletes Limitless’s roster.

“Grand Rapids is just some hours away from the place I dwell in Chicago, so it’s excellent,” Kayla mentioned. “We have now three women right here who’re on my crew right here at AU, so we will get to know one another a bit bit higher and construct up that chemistry, as a result of we’re going to be enjoying collectively actually quickly. I’m prone to be staying dwelling for a bit bit, particularly with the trajectory that PVF goes to take. With the expertise the league has signed and the venues it has lined up, It’s going to be rather well achieved.

“With all of those forces of volleyball coming collectively, I’m so excited. Our (Grand Rapids) crew is stacked, however the different groups are, too. It’s going to be epic.”

Click on right here for extra on Athletes Limitless and search for our season preview Thursday.

Kayla Caffey of Texas hits in opposition to Oklahoma in 2022/Texas photograph



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