Canada's Brie King excited for 'once in a lifetime' chance with Athletes Unlimited
Brie King enjoys three main passions: volleyball, church and music.
"Everything I do for the church is because I want to. It's giving back for me. Volleyball is my total passion. I love volleyball so much. And music has just been this incredible gift that has really just naturally come easy," King said.
King, 23, of Langley, B.C., is the lone Canadian set to compete in the Athletes Unlimited volleyball season that begins on Saturday.
CBCSports.ca has live coverage of select games beginning Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.
A member of the senior national indoor volleyball team, King played collegiately at Trinity Western in her hometown before skipping her senior season to turn pro in Germany.
Now, she'll compete in the inaugural AU volleyball campaign. The pro women's sports league launched last summer with softball and will introduce a lacrosse league in July.
At the same time, King is continuing to lead Zoom services for the church she and husband Jeremy began during the pandemic. If that wasn't enough, as a musician and singer she has an album set to be released early in the summer.
"I feel like I have to be so wild into volleyball, especially with the format. It's like a really heavy game and not a lot of off-time. … I thought about buying a guitar or a small little keyboard while I'm here just to have some fun, but who knows?," King said.
Athletes Unlimited employs a different format than the typical North American pro league: players switch teams every week for the six-week duration, with individual points earned and subtracted for things like aces and errors.
Points are also earned for winning individual sets and overall matches. Those matches are played in three sets up to 25 points, with the winner of the match the team who scored the most.
"They've really made it clear [that] a team wins and the games, matches, those all account for a lot more than the individual points. And I think it's a really accurate reflection, honestly, of what the sport is," King said.
King arrived in Dallas, where the entire season will be played, in early February. After a three-day hotel-room quarantine, she began practice along the 43 other athletes in attendance, including six Olympians.
Canada's women's indoor volleyball team failed to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, but King says all eyes are on Paris 2024.
She'll begin her season on a team with Brazilian Olympian Sheilla Castro and Dominican counterpart Bethania De La Cruz.
"The experience to play with these players that I've grown up watching and learning from, it feels like once in a lifetime. I really can't believe it. And in a lot of ways, we're peers in the sense that we're teammates and we're working together to achieve the same goal. But I feel like I'm getting so much better as a player and a human by being around such high-level experience," she said.
Proximity to home is key
King, a second-round pick in the AU draft, said there's already been interest from teammates and competitors in joining her Sunday services.
She's already seen the difference even an online congregation can make in our socially distanced lives.
"I think that's been the most beautiful part is just seeing people not have their circumstances change, but be able to change where their heart and mind is at," she said.
Proximity to family became increasingly important to King during the pandemic. She had an offer to play professionally in Turkey, but when a Canadian coach called her with the Athletes Unlimited opportunity, its location was the biggest draw.
"It kind of feels like the U.S. and Canada together on the same team in terms of international volleyball. And it's kind of a dream of every young girl in the U.S. and Canada to get to play closer to home," King said.
Players are paid relative to their final place in the standings. AU matches 50 per cent of that salary to be donated to charities of that individual's choice.
They also receive behind-the-scenes training from a league advisory board that includes NBA MVP Kevin Durant, softball great Jessica Mendoza, Hockey Hall of Famer Angela Ruggiero, World Cup champion Abby Wambach and tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.
Those workshops include brand development, financial management and more, all in an effort to make the athletes the focus of the fledgling league.
Despite an active church and a budding music career, for the next six weeks King's main focus will return to her profession.
"When I think about when this is done, I'm so excited to feel like I just gained a ton of knowledge and got a lot better at volleyball."