Feb 28, 2024 - Sports

Columbus Fury winning over fans of pro women's volleyball

A GIF of a Columbus Fury player spiking a volleyball.

Valeria León sets up Reagan Cooper for a spike. Clip: Tyler Buchanan/Axios

It was not the ear-splitting rock music typically heard at professional sporting events, but a more literal refrain for the Columbus Fury's first timeout: Shania Twain's "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!"

Why it matters: Our new pro women's volleyball team is inspiring a new generation of women's sports fans, furthering a regional goal to become an inclusive sports hub.

State of play: The Fury are one of seven inaugural teams in the Pro Volleyball Federation, the first U.S. league of its kind since the 1980s.

  • Most players, like middle blocker Jenna Rosenthal, are former collegiate stars previously forced to continue their careers in Europe.
  • Now they get the chance to compete domestically and grow the sport in America, Rosenthal says.

How it works: Matches are played in a best-of-5 format, with the first four a race to 25 points and a deciding fifth set (if needed) played to 15.

  • Each team has a 24-match schedule over four months. The best four of seven teams will advance to the postseason.

Between the lines: New traditions are forming through the franchise's first two home matches at Nationwide Arena.

  • A pre-match video montage shows children reading the text of Title IX, the landmark 1972 civil rights law that spurred a women's sports boom.
  • The "Mystery Seat Monday" promotion upgrades a few fans from the cheap seats to courtside views.
  • During timeouts, the floor is cleaned by four dancing gentlemen in sunglasses and hats known as "The Mopsters."

Matches move quickly. After a point ends, the serving team has just 15 seconds for the ball to hit the air.

  • Fans chant "We! Are! Fury!" in sync with the bump, set, spike of the ball, with a rising swell of cheers as a rally progresses.
  • It culminates in a loud celebration if Columbus wins the point, then fans quickly sink back into a hush for the next serve.
Columbus Fury players pose for a celebratory photo in front of the volleyball net.
Fury players celebrate Monday's victory over the Vegas Thrill. Photo courtesy the Columbus Fury/Pro Volleyball Federation

What they're saying: "A crescendo of enthusiasm. That's one of the best parts about (volleyball)," announcer Neil Sika tells us.

  • He'll soon be calling Fury games on the Bally Sports Network, with prior experience broadcasting Big Ten volleyball, the Columbus Crew and many other sports.

The intrigue: There are no line judges to determine if shots are "in" or "out." Instead, a camera system relays calls to a referee in real time.

  • Coaches use tablets to challenge calls, substitute players and call timeouts.

Our thought bubble: The match-viewing experience for fans is excellent, but Nationwide Arena could use some improvement.

  • Axios walked the concourse before Monday's match and noticed a lack of Fury banners, wall pieces or volleyball-themed decorations.
  • Only hockey is on display, but an arena that's home to the Blue Jackets and Fury should start to look like it.

Meet some of the team:

The former Buckeyes: Libero Valeria León and outside hitters Ashley Wenz and Jenaisya Moore played a combined 10 seasons at OSU.

  • León spent six seasons in the pro Puerto Rican League and is a defensive specialist, while Wenz and Moore look for spikes at the net.

The civil engineer: Middle blocker Jenna Rosenthal played overseas in Finland and Germany before returning to pursue an engineering career.

  • She then jumped at the chance to continue her career with the Pro Volleyball Federation and mentor younger players.
  • "It's not about my career anymore, it's about their career," she said in a team bio. "I still got it, I'm not old, but it's really about building something special. Engineering is cool, but the parks and public space design can wait."

The coach: Ángel Pérez is a legend of Puerto Rican men's volleyball and captained the national team for six years before turning to coaching.

  • He was a setter by trade dishing the ball for teammates to spike and now hopes to set up the Fury for success in the new league.

The team schedulefind ticketshow to watch from home.

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