Pro Volleyball Federation: Amy Pauly coaches the Orlando Valkyries

Amy Pauly coaches the Orlando Valkyries in a home match against the Omaha Supernovas. (Photo/Courtesy of the Orlando Valkyries)


Trojans help usher in a new era for women’s professional volleyball

Former USC student-athletes Kalyah Williams and Skylar Fields reunite with coach Amy Pauly in Orlando as part of the new Pro Volleyball Federation.

May 02, 2024 By Grayson Schmidt

When Kalyah Williams and Skylar Fields entered their final season as members of the USC women’s volleyball team, they knew their options in the sport were limited post-graduation. Unlike women’s basketball or soccer, indoor volleyball didn’t have a well-established professional league, regular nationally broadcast games or major endorsement opportunities.

While a new professional women’s indoor volleyball league was rumored to be in the works, many — including Williams and Fields — remained skeptical because previous iterations of such a league had either failed to gain traction or operated in relative obscurity.

Williams, Fields and most collegiate volleyball players assume that if they want to play professionally, they’ll have to go overseas. However, a familiar face soon changed all of that.

Last summer, former Trojan assistant women’s indoor volleyball coach Amy Pauly left USC to become the first head coach of the Orlando Valkyries of the new Pro Volleyball Federation (PVF). In December — barely a week after Williams’ final game in a Trojan uniform — her former coach selected her to join the Valkyries with the 33rd overall pick of the inaugural PVF draft.

Pro Volleyball Federation: Kalyah Williams
Trojan Kalyah Williams was the 33rd overall pick of the inaugural Pro Volleyball Federation draft. (USC Photo/Katie Chin)

“I loved Amy when she was at USC … so I’m just grateful to be able to come into this league and play for someone that I know and love,” Williams said. “I’m really fortunate to be in this little family here in Orlando, and the fact that she’s leading just adds to that.”

Although Fields had already begun playing in Italy, her season there ended just as the PVF’s inaugural season kicked off earlier this year. The former USC All-American was able to sign with the Valkyries and rejoin her fellow Trojans.

“Coming home from Italy, I knew I still wanted to play and saw there was an opportunity to hop into this league,” Fields said. “I already had a relationship with Amy from USC, so I was just like, ‘OK, this should be a great fit.’ And it has been.”

Pro Volleyball Federation: Origins and fan support

Pauly first began hearing reports of a new professional women’s indoor volleyball league in 2022. Though she said there was initial excitement, there was also some confusion. A separate professional women’s indoor volleyball league named Athletes Unlimited Pro Volleyball had debuted just a year before, though it followed a less traditional format than the PVF, with no set teams in different cities with their own logos and mascots.

There have been several other women’s volleyball leagues that have followed a more traditional format that have failed, such as Major League Volleyball, which existed from 1987 to 1989, and the United States Professional Volleyball League in 2002.

“My first thought upon hearing about the PVF was, ‘Another one? How many of these leagues are we really going to start?’” Pauly said with a laugh. “But the more I got to know about what the purpose of this league was, the more I bought into being excited about what they can offer the future of volleyball.”

Pro Volleyball Federation: Skylar Fields
Trojan Skylar Fields wrapped up a season in Italy before joining the Valkyries. (USC Photo/Skylar Fields)

One key difference between the PVF and previous leagues is the amount of support it has received from outside the volleyball community. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and his parents became part owners of the Columbus Fury, and pop and R&B singer Jason Derulo is part owner of the Omaha Supernovas. The league also announced broadcast deals with CBS Sports, Bally Sports and YouTube ahead of its inaugural season.

“The more accessible we can be to the average sports fan, the better,” Pauly said. “There are hundreds of thousands of views of games on YouTube, so what better way to get exposure for a team and the players?”

There is even more support within the volleyball community. USC women’s volleyball head coach Brad Keller said he loves the opportunity the PVF presents for future classes of volleyball players. “They get to be pioneers in a new thing — the tip of the spear,” Keller said. “I just love that, and I love that we have strong female role models that are getting this thing going.”

Veteran presence

Serving as a role model is nothing new to Williams. As a 23-year-old graduate transfer from Washington State University, the Long Beach native served as a sort of “liaison” between coaches and her younger teammates, Pauly recalled.

“She’s a great athlete and she’s super smart, so she really fit the bill of what it means to be a Trojan,” Pauly added.

When Pauly saw that Orlando had two spots available on the roster, she knew Williams would be one of her top choices due to her “multidimensional” playing style.

“She’s been great for our team culture, she challenges our A-side, and she continues to get better as well — it’s a win-win for everybody,” Pauly said.

Having joined her Italian club — Uyba Volley Busto Arsizio — midseason, Fields said, coming into the PVF while the season was in full swing wasn’t too difficult. “There was definitely a culture shock and a language barrier to deal with when I got to Italy, so coming back it was nice to be able to communicate with my team and not be the foreigner,” Fields said.

Pro Volleyball Federation builds on a strong foundation

The first match of the PVF season between the Omaha Supernovas and the Atlanta Vibe brought in a sold-out crowd of over 11,000 fans at Omaha’s CHI Health Center arena. Previously, the highest attended women’s professional volleyball match in the United States was an Olympic qualifier in 2016 — at just over 10,000 fans — between the U.S. team and the Dominican Republic.

Keller said that, to him, shows what the possibilities are for professional volleyball in this country.

“I’m excited to see where the future is going to go,” Keller said. “It’s so important to have that first hit.”

There are only three guaranteed games left in the season. Though the Trojan trio wants to finish the season on a high note amid the seven-team league and compete for a championship, they know that this inaugural season is about more than wins and losses.

“Obviously we want to win — there’s monetary value in that as well — but we’ve also talked about just making Orlando proud,” Pauly said. “We only get 12 home matches, so you really have to put on a show every time you take the floor.”

Both Fields and Williams said the initial support of the Orlando community gives them hope that the PVF is making its mark in women’s professional sports. They said the community has embraced the Valkyries, which has been the biggest win of the season.

“Orlando is a great city for the Valkyries,” Fields said. “We have great fans that show up to our games and we just have a lot of support from the community — you go places around town, and you see our logo hanging up.”

Now, the hope is to continue to build on that momentum for the next season and for the next generation of volleyball players.

“I think the Orlando community is really excited to have the volleyball team here,” Williams said. “Just seeing the kids and how happy they are being at a game, and then how excited they get when they talk to us and interact with us, that’s definitely been my favorite part of this journey.”