Wed. Feb 28th, 2024

The newest team to roll into San Diego comes from a league that’s elevating the platform of a popular sport.

“The significance can not be overstated.”

Those are the words of three time gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings. She is the owner of the San Diego Mojo – one of seven teams in the Pro Volleyball Federation, a full season major league version of the game. Such a league has had a presence overseas, but never gained traction in the United States.

“It’s a gamechanger to play in America it really is,” Walsh Jennings told NBC 7. “My partner (Misty May-Treanor) and I were the best team in the world for two years but we only played internationally. The moment we signed a domestic contract we were stars.”

That’s the hope for this generation – players like Ronika Stone, an All-American at Oregon who spent the first four years of her pro career abroad.

“It’s a blessing and it’s amazing,” Stone said. “I’m so grateful it’s a dream come true because like you said this hasn’t been an opportunity that we’ve had before.”

Not at this level – and as Morgan Lewis knows – certainly not in this city. San Diego scooped up the fellow Oregon product in December’s draft.

“All these emotions hit me immediately and I was like, ‘oh my gosh I get to go home.'”

Morgan is a La Costa Canyon grad whose career has come full circle thanks to the game’s steady ascent.

“Every single year volleyball is just growing more and more and now being able to take it to another level is going to open up a lot for the sport,” Lewis added.

The scene a few months ago in Lincoln, Nebraska is further proof of the game’s rising popularity. Over 92 thousand fans packed into the Husker’s football Stadium to watch the storied program take on Omaha. It’s believed to be the largest crowd for a women’s sporting event in the world.

“Volleyball continues to keep breaking records,” Stone said. And her sport isn’t alone.

College Basketball’s Reigning Player of the Year Caitlin Clark has drawn huge crowds at Iowa, boosted ticket prices, and helped last year’s title game set a new viewership record.

In San Diego the Wave have set numerous attendance marks, and got more fans at home matches than more than half of MLS clubs in 2023. They’ve been instrumental in the league’s boom, which led to a new TV rights deal that will provide more money for players and exposure for teams.

“It’s an amazing year for women’s sports and it’s just on an up and up,” Stone said.

That rise continues in San Diego thanks to a first year league that represents a brand new opportunity.

As Walsh Jennings said, “the time is now.”

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