Grace Cleveland adds player back to her resume

Grace Cleveland coaching in Hinkle Fieldhouse. Photo courtesy of Butler Athletics.


Until a couple of years ago, college volleyball was the end for most women who played volleyball in the United States. This all changed in November of 2022 with the announcement of the Professional Volleyball Federation (PVF) — a league of opportunity for players who want to continue pursuing the sport, including one right here at Butler. 

Grace Cleveland is an assistant coach for Butler’s volleyball team and a right-side hitter on the PVF’s Atlanta Vibe

The PVF played its first match on Jan. 24 when the Atlanta Vibe beat the Omaha Supernovas in front of an 11,624-person crowd in Nebraska — the largest turnout ever for women’s indoor volleyball in the U.S.. 

There are seven teams in the inaugural season: Atlanta Vibe, Columbus Fury, Grand Rapids Rise, Omaha Supernovas, Orlando Valkyries, San Diego Mojo and Vegas Thrill. Three more teams are set to join the league in 2025, including one in Indianapolis

There have been attempts at starting a league before. In 1987, Major League Volleyball folded in the middle of its third season. The PVF has something that other iterations of a professional league did not: strong investors. 

Pop artist Jason Derulo is a member of the ownership group for the Supernovas and increased his investment further, becoming a League Investor of the PVF itself. Other high-profile equity investors include NFL quarterback Joe Burrow, Orlando Magic chairman Dan DeVos and Kerri Walsh Jennings, three-time Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist. 

PVF players are under contract for a 24-match regular season and playoffs running through May. They will be paid $60,000 with bonuses for individual and team performance. The league has emphasized that they want their players to have livable wages while playing their sport professionally. 

Before Butler, Cleveland was a standout outside hitter for the Purdue Boilermakers. From 2018-21, Cleveland was a star. She ranks sixth all-time at Purdue in total blocks (469) and ninth all-time in attempts (3,599). She became a full-time starter in 2019 as a sophomore and was a unanimous All-Big Ten performer for the rest of her career. 

After her time at Purdue, Cleveland knew she wanted to stay connected to volleyball, even if she was not playing. She started as an assistant coach with The Academy Volleyball Club in Lafayette but then moved to Indianapolis. 

In May of 2023, Cleveland signed a contract with the Atlanta Vibe. Soon after that, Cleveland signed another contract, one to be an assistant coach at Butler alongside head coach Kyle Shondell

Cleveland said the PVF is very supportive of their athletes coaching during the off-season or having other jobs, so she thought Butler would be a good opportunity to continue training while staying close to the game. Cleveland also thinks playing professionally will help her coaching. 

“Being with so many amazing volleyball players in the gym, I learn so much from them and how they think strategically and their experience of playing overseas or playing in professional leagues for years,” Cleveland said. “So, [I enjoy] just getting to learn it at a higher speed. Being at Butler this last year was super helpful as well, from a visual standpoint. You learn so much from just watching the game, maybe even sometimes more than playing it … So, I think coming back, I’ll definitely be able to help in different ways.” 

Cleveland signed with the Atlanta Vibe in May of 2023. Photo courtesy of @zachzunt on Instagram.

The PVF offers new opportunities for players who may have completely quit the game otherwise. With the option to play after college, many athletes may reconsider their paths after graduation. Shondell has coached at many levels of volleyball since 2009. He acknowledged the lack of accessibility for professional volleyball before the PVF. 

“I think that in other sports the professional level has been an aspiration and has been an accessible aspiration,” Shondell said. “In volleyball, [for] most athletes I’ve coached, it hasn’t been a thought, because to get paid decently well you had to go overseas.” 

Two-time Big East Player of the Year Jaymeson Kinley finished her final season of Butler volleyball in the fall of 2023 under Shondell and Cleveland’s coaching. Kinley originally expected that to be the end of her career, but with the start of the PVF, she now has her eyes on playing professionally. 

“I am trying to play in it for sure,” Kinley said. “There’s a team coming to Indy in the spring. So, I’ve been in the gym, still training, almost every day … It’s really cool to see all the competition.” 

Volleyball is growing and people are noticing. Due to a spike in viewership and growing popularity, eyes have been on collegiate volleyball. In August, Nebraska broke the previous world record for attendance at a women’s sporting event with 91,648 attendees at the Nebraska vs. Omaha game. ESPN also said that the 2023 regular season was the most-watched women’s college volleyball season on their platforms. Cleveland believes that this popularity will help the PVF’s success. 

“I think the PVF saw [volleyball’s recent success] and said ‘Here’s a time to get interest from young girls, now is the time to [make a league],’” Cleveland said. “My hope is that girls will see a future past college volleyball and [that will] motivate them to keep going, push through the long seasons.” 

Not only could the PVF have a national impact, but Shondell believes that the federation and Cleveland can have a positive impact on Butler’s program. 

“I think it’s helpful [having a coach who plays professionally],” Shondell said. “Having the accessibility of a pro league in America is changing the mindset. Not only is it ‘Hey this could be me,’ they are seeing somebody who actually is [playing] … It’s a great thing for our current players, and it’s not a bad thing recruitment-wise to know that all volleyball eyes across America are watching this league and that player right there is a coach at Butler.” 


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