Ian Satterfield always had in mind an experience of playing professional indoor volleyball abroad. It didn’t necessarily have to be a career, but a year or two, maybe a small contract, would have been nice.
Satterfield, a South Bay boy, competed for the famed Mira Costa High School, which straddles the border between Manhattan and Hermosa Beach, California, and helped the Mustangs win a couple of Bay League titles and a division championship in 2008. bidding to compete for Long Beach State, where he was teammates with a pair of brothers with the last name Crabb, finishing his senior season with a 22-10 record and just over two kills per game.
But when graduation came, no contract offers came along.
Instead, he went to the beach, represented the United States at the 2015 Pan American Games and cashed his first AVP check in 2017, when he qualified with Orlando Irizarry for the Austin main draw. From there, he climbed the AVP ladder and started most tournaments straight into the main draw in 2018 and 2019.
Indoor was crazy.
Until, just a few weeks ago, David Lee called him.
“There’s an indoor competition going on in India,” Lee told him. “It could be a nice gig for us to do in the off-season before we come back and start training again.”
“I said, ‘Wow, that’s super cool, thanks for reaching out,'” Satterfield recalled. “I never got to play professionally indoor anywhere abroad after college, so I was like, ‘Yeah, damn, count me in.’ He didn’t even say how much, I just said, ‘I’m in, let’s do it.’”
And so Satterfield’s long-lost professional indoor career was born, starting with the RuPay Prime Volleyball League in Kochi, India. He still doesn’t know when he should leave, only that the original date was scheduled for January 15th. He doesn’t know the schedule yet, or how long he will even be in India.
All he knows is that volleyball has to be played and that there is money to be made.
“To me it sounds like the best scenario when it comes to playing indoors abroad,” Satterfield said. “It’s a shortened season, we’re in a popular city, we’re all in the same boat, in the same area.”
Satterfield will be joined in India by a host of fellow Americans, many of whom have also been pulled from the beach: Kyle Friend, Ryan Meehan, Cody Caldwell, Bruno Amorim, Aaron Koubi, Colton Cowell, Matt August, Noah Taitano and Lee, who has served as de facto agent for the group.
In 2019, Lee, along with former Olympic teammate Paul Lotman, participated in the RuPay Pro Volleyball League, an initiative of the Volleyball Federation of India, Head Digital Works Pvt. Ltd. and Baseline Ventures. Matches were broadcast by Sony Pictures Networks and the players were most likely paid handsomely. The experience was unanimously positive.
COVID, of course, fared worst at live sporting events in 2020 and 2021, but RuPay injected another round of cash into the league, conceived the Prime Volleyball League and restarted it in 2022.
The RuPay Prime Volleyball League consists of seven teams – Ahmedabad Defenders, Calicut Heroes, Chennai Blitz, Black Hawks Hyderabad, Kochi Blue Spikers, Bengaluru Torpedoes, Kolkata Thunderbolts – in cities across India.
They just needed players to fill those rosters.
“When Dave asked if I was interested, I said, ‘Are you sure they’re looking for a retired indoor player from five years ago?’” Friend said with a laugh. “My first thought was no, I don’t think so. But then I thought ‘How long? Six weeks? OK.’ I have some flexibility with work, I think it’s possible I could be away for six weeks. A week later he put me in touch with India and I have a contract.”
So Friend, who hasn’t played indoor since his last contract in Switzerland expired in 2017, is once again a professional indoor volleyball player.
“As soon as we completed the contract, I said, ‘Okay, let’s get the body ready, let’s start jumping around and scanning the indoor track. Let’s do things with shoes on,” Friend said, referring to the beach-inside transition that many Americans will make.
For the past five years, Friend has been playing on the AVP Tour, on the soft and soft sand, barefoot, with only one other player on the field, which is significantly smaller. Satterfield has also been exclusively on the beach, as has Lee, but with four indoor Olympics on his resume and the unofficial title of Best American Middle, it won’t take him much time to get the indoor legs back.
“The first day I went to VIBE [Volleyball Lab, in El Segundo, Ca.], went in there for an hour and he knocked balls down, served, passed and it felt rusty, it felt shaky,” Friend said. “You had to hold the corner harder because the ball is heavier. It required more resistance because it’s so soft and light on the beach. I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is hard.’ My forearms hurt, but I went back the next day and it felt a lot better.”
It only gets better from here. The Americans are still waiting for their visas, so when they will go remains a mystery. But when do they do that? It’s going to be a long flight, a quick quarantine, then what?
Back to indoor volleyball.
“My body will move, I will still touch a volleyball, it will just have a slightly different vibe,” Friend said. “It will be physically demanding and still worth it. The timing is top notch. Everything kind of fell into place.”
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