With an infectious snicker 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 persona 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 may begin on Friday, Saturday and Monday in Mesa, Arizona. Matches could be seend on the ESPN+ streaming platform and the ESPNU cable TV channel.
The transitions made by Caffey throughout her seven-year faculty 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 — during which 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 staff and I’ve been on many alternative groups, as have most of the different ladies,” Caffey mentioned. “Since I had a lot time in faculty, I didn’t get that skilled expertise that they’ve below their belts, although I may have been taking part in professional for the final three years, since faculty is simply speculated to be 4 years and I performed seven. So, sure, my expertise in transferring twice positively will assist me.”
Caffey gained loads of big-match repetitions as a collegian, taking part in 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 last watched by a report 1.18 million TV viewers.
Every step the product of Mom McAuley in Chicago took by way 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 damage 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 view to turn out to be a greater participant. Massive Ten volleyball is a whole-nother ballgame with the dimensions and the velocity and every little thing, even like amenities, the teaching that you just get and the competitors that you just’re taking part in each week.
“Then the transition from Nebraska to Texas was loopy as nicely. (Nebraska coach John Prepare dinner) had requested me to take my seventh season. I actually didn’t need 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 quick that one sport. 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 in the course of the last 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 wonderful the way in which all of it got here collectively. Taking part in with unimaginable teammates like Logan (Eggleston) and Asjia (O’Neal) and Madi (Skinner) and Saige (Ka’aha’aina-Torres) and Zoe (Fleck), everybody on that staff. It was such an excellent program and that we have been in a position to win all of it simply put the cherry on prime. It was the right solution to finish my profession. I felt completely happy 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 staff, a perennial energy within the Puerto Rican professional league. She additionally labored instead trainer at a South Aspect elementary college 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. In the course of the quick time spent in Arizona practising along with her friends, she has turn out to be “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 couple of week and so they’ve already had so many workshops for us, simply to make us higher people, to coach us on matters all over the world, serving to us turn out to be extra conscious. It’s additionally actually cool that they’ve these facilitator-coaches who are available and have our observe deliberate out. But it surely’s not what it’s important to do. It’s very totally different than faculty. They’re giving us the autonomy that skilled volleyball ought to have. If you might want to, you possibly can handle your physique, step out of form if you might want to go do remedy. 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 energy, the expertise, the data of the sport, I really feel like virtually a freshman in faculty 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. Daily I’m simply so grateful to be right here.”
The AU aggressive construction awards factors for particular person statistics reminiscent of kills, aces, assists, digs and blocks, and subtracts factors for errors. “Workforce” 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 lifelike about her lengthy odds of copping prime honors, and even being one of many 4 weekly staff 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 prospect to play with totally different gamers, totally different combos, It can by no means get boring.”
A couple 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 reminiscent of attendance, TV viewership and participation on the high-school degree.
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 taking part in professional ball at dwelling — somewhat 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 faculty, the seven years I used to be there, if I had the need to play skilled volleyball, and plenty of the time my reply was, ‘I don’t know.’ I didn’t know that I needed 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 principally due to the large surge in curiosity in ladies’s volleyball in the USA.
“I had heard nothing, truthfully, however detrimental issues about abroad ball, although it’s ‘an excellent 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 needed to do.
“However I knew I needed to play at that subsequent degree, so at any time when 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 the entire Individuals are going to need 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’ll stick.”
The logistics of taking part in 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 only a few hours away from the place I dwell in Chicago, so it’s good,” Kayla mentioned. “We have now three ladies right here who’re on my staff right here at AU, so we are able to get to know one another slightly bit higher and construct up that chemistry, as a result of we’re going to be taking part in collectively actually quickly. I’m more likely to be staying dwelling for slightly 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 very well accomplished.
“With all of those forces of volleyball coming collectively, I’m so excited. Our (Grand Rapids) staff is stacked, however the different groups are, too. It’s going to be epic.”
Click here for more on Athletes Unlimited and search for our season preview Thursday.