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Amani McArthur

Steve Marcus

Amani McArthur spikes during the first day of Vegas Thrill training camp at the Vegas Aces volleyball facility in Henderson. The new professional volleyball team will have its home opener at the Dollar Loan Center on February 15

The sound of spiked volleyballs constantly reverberates through the gym with only the occasional harsh noise surfacing to momentarily drown them out. Skin sometimes squeaks on the rubber floor when players dive to keep balls alive. Applause and encouragement pipe up from teammates waiting their turns to rotate in when a prolonged volley occurs.

The cycle is constant for about 30 minutes, until a brief respite when one of the players notices blood on the ground. They can’t determine to whom it belongs, call for clean-up and move a court over to re-establish the torrid pace of the 3-on-3 drill.

At first glance, the newly-formed Vegas Thrill roster in the Professional Volleyball Federation is spectacular athletically and spirited in approach—and this isn’t even a match. It’s one of the newest, Henderson-based team’s first practices just days after 20 women flew in to meet for the first time and begin their inaugural season.

“The biggest thing we’ve been talking about in practice is effort,” setter Hannah Pukis says. “We’re going to be the team that goes for every single ball. The ball won’t touch the ground. We’re going to have the best ball control. That’s already being implemented, and every single day, we’re working on that. We’re going to be the team that has the most fight, the most grit on the court.”

The Thrill’s regular season begins on February 7 with a road date at the Omaha Supernovas. Their home debut comes on February 15 when they host the Supernovas at the Dollar Loan Center.

Expectations are high for the Thrill to compete in the seven-team league behind a talented roster. Players to watch include the 23-year-old Pukis, the third overall pick out of the University of Oregon in the PVF’s first college draft; veteran setter Alisha Glass Childress, a former Olympic bronze medalist; and local native middle blocker Berkeley Oblad, a former Coronado High star turned University of Utah standout.

Longtime LSU head coach and American Volleyball Coaches Hall of Famer Fran Flory moved to town to coach the team.

“My friends tell me I failed at retirement because I was retired for two years, but this opportunity, how do you say no to it?” Flory said. “It’s new. It’s exciting. It’s viable. It’s a real opportunity. It’s enough money for these players to live and take some money home. It’s a professional model that’s going to provide opportunities for families and women to actually have a career in the U.S.”

Traditionally, those opportunities have only been available overseas. After an All-American career at Penn State University, the 35-year-old Glass Childress played in Brazil, Poland and Italy.

Thursday Feb. 15 — vs. Omaha Supernovas

Monday Feb. 19 — vs. San Diego Mojo

Thursday Feb. 22 — vs. Orlando Valkyries

Saturday Feb. 24 — vs. Columbus Fury

Monday March 4 — vs. Atlanta Vibe

Sunday March 24 — vs. San Diego Mojo

Tuesday March 26 — vs. Grand Rapids Rise

All home games at 7 p.m. at Dollar Loan Center. Tickets start at $29 for single games, or $100 deposit for season tickets at or 725-251-5413.

The 25-year-old Oblad shipped off to France upon graduating from Utah.

“This is a dream I never thought was going to happen,” Oblad said. “I played college in a different state and my parents came to watch but after high school, I never played in Vegas again. Now that it’s here, everyone can come watch. To play at home is a surreal experience.”

The players have responded to the “grit” and “fight” that Flory teaches, but the coach says a commitment to that style alone won’t be enough in the PVF.The league has attracted an inspiring level of top-tier talent, according to Flory. She’s banking on the caliber of the players in the league being the biggest separator and what ultimately allows the PVF to thrive unlike previous attempts to create a high-level domestic league.

“This league is going to be about offense,” Flory said. “We have to have players who can physically finish. The setting position is the quarterback position in our sport and we have three really, really good ones. It’s going to be tough to make the roster at that position, but we’re excited about that.”

The Thrill’s other setter along with Glass Childress and Pukis is Ainise Havili, a former three-time All American at the University of Kansas.

Vegas must trim its roster size to 14 players in time for the season, though teams also have two practice spots for college-drafted prospects. A few players including Glass Childress and Havili had started to transition into coaching before the formation of the PVF, and can therefore be an extra asset for the younger, developing players to lean on.

“It’s so fun to be a part of this team,” Oblad said. “We have so much firepower, and we have a ton of IQ in this gym. A lot of these girls have been around volleyball for a long time and seen different aspects all around the world, so I think that’s really big to bring to this team.”

Pukis is trying to soak in the wisdom from all her more experienced teammates as part of a path that could lead her to becoming the face of the franchise. It’s helped that she’s also come in as part of a class with four other rookies, including one in particular who’s helped Las Vegas feel more like home quickly.

Flory said it wasn’t planned and solely a result of how the draft fell, but Vegas’ second pick was a collegiate teammate of Pukis’ in outside hitter Gaby Gonzales. Pukis and Gonzales only teamed up for a single year with the Ducks—the latter transferred in from Ohio State to follow in the path of the former, who started her college career at Washington State—but they helped make the team one of the best in the nation.

Oregon fell short of its championship aspirations with an Elite Eight loss to Wisconsin in December, but perhaps Pukis and Gonzales can now scratch off that goal together on the professional level.

“We knew we were going to have to build a culture here and we purposefully picked these athletes because we knew they would buy into what we believe in, what we want to create here and what Vegas stands for,” Flory said. “Vegas is the sports capital of the world. It’s not quite there yet, but it’s going to be there, and we want to be part of that camaraderie.”

Article written by #LasVegasSun