With the first week of Athletes Unlimited Volleyball Season 2 complete, Week 2 begins Wednesday night with some fresh faces atop the leaderboard.
The first week delivered plenty of action and movement as players adjusted to the beginning of the season. Bethania De La Cruz currently sits second on the leaderboard with 800 points, 28 points behind newcomer Dani Drews.
Natalia Valentin-Anderson is in third place with 667 points, while Drews’ fellow rookie Lauren Stivrins is fourth with 660.
The competition is tight among the top 10, with Sheilla Castro sitting just six points out of a captain’s spot with 654 points. While Drews and De La Cruz are ahead of the competition by at least 100 points, the degree of separation between the remaining eight players is slim. A total of 92 points separates third place from 10th, meaning that it’s anybody’s game in Week 2.
Just Women’s Sports has a few storylines to follow as the competition gets underway Wednesday.
There were questions in Week 1 about how Drews and Stivrins would fare against stiff competition. The answer? Quite well.
After being selected first overall in the Week 1 draft, Drews overtook fellow outside hitter Bethania De La Cruz for the league lead with 828 total points. Among her Week 1 highlights was a 410-point performance in Game 5. Drews will need to keep it up to hold off De La Cruz, who’s only 28 points behind her and has the potential to break out at any point.
Stivrins, meanwhile, grabbed the fourth and final captain’s spot with 660 points while on Team De La Cruz. She had a solid performance in Game 2, racking up 308 total points off of eight kills, four blocks and three digs. She sits just six points ahead of Sheilla Castro, who will be looking to make the jump while playing for Team De La Cruz this week.
Valentin-Anderson also had a strong first week with AU, highlighted by a 294-point, 43-assist performance in Game 5. She currently leads the league with 107 total assists.
While all three newcomers had a good Week 1, they also were not charged with selecting their teammates. This week, each of them took a first stab at the Athletes Unlimited draft. Their volleyball knowledge will be tested, and their decisions could lead to some shifting on the leaderboard.
After finishing 19th on the leaderboard last season with 2,350 points, Castro is off to a hot start with 654 total points in Week 1. That number is over a quarter of her total production last season and, if she continues on the same pace, she could improve upon last season’s performance by nearly 1,000 points.
She could also make a run at a captain’s spot, as she currently sits just six points behind Stivrins in fourth place and 13 points behind Valentin-Anderson in third place.
Big time players make big time plays.@sheillacastro | #AUVB pic.twitter.com/DVLFgxRrrL— Athletes Unlimited (@AUProSports) March 19, 2022
Big time players make big time plays.@sheillacastro | #AUVB pic.twitter.com/DVLFgxRrrL
Already, Castro has bettered at least one of her performances from last season, recording 11 digs in Game 5,after tying last season’s high the night before with 10. She’s also excelled on her serve, recording four total serving aces, tying her for the lead.
A two-time Olympic gold medalist for Brazil, Castro has experience in high-pressure situations and will be one to watch out for in the weeks to come.
In short, not a lot. De La Cruz bested her Week 1 totals from last year by 50 points. If she stays on track, she could increase her point total by over 300 points. While Drews got better as the games went on, De La Cruz was more consistent in her point scoring.
De La Cruz also has a high ceiling, having set AU career highs of 21 kills and 13 digs in a single game. Her highest kill total was 13 against Team Lowe, and she matched her dig total with 13 against Team Cruz.
Look for it to be a battle between the two as Athletes Unlimited enters its second week. De La Cruz could have a slight advantage given its experience with the AU draft system. She also has Sheilla Castro as the only carryover from her Week 1 team, and she will be looking to make a run at a captain’s spot of her own. But De La Cruz lost Lauren Stivrins to a captain’s spot and will be working with an entirely new group of players, which could lend Drews the advantage.
Emma Hruby is an associate editor at Just Women’s Sports.