Lloy Ball and Team Pineapple training for pro league debut

2008 Olympic volleyball gold medalist Lloy Ball is back in training with his Team Pineapple teammates to participate in a new professional volleyball pro league making its debut Dec. 7 in Las Vegas. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)

Just like Al Pacino in “The Godfather, Part III,” every time Lloy Ball thinks he’s retired as a volleyball player the sport finds a way to pull him back in. Honestly, though, they don’t have to tug all that hard on the leash.

The 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist, 45, is training with some former IPFW and Ball State players to represent his Team Pineapple professional squad Dec. 7-10 in the National Volleyball Association Showcase at the Las Vegas MGM Grand Hotel. Eight teams are using the event to help kick off what they hope after many tries will become the country’s first professional league. The last attempt failed two years ago.

“When the Premier Volleyball League stopped two years ago, a lot of us were very upset,” Ball said. “We had put a lot of time energy and money into that, it was devastating because it was taken away by things we couldn’t control. Now we have a second chance. Even if it’s just for me to play one year and then become a coach, this is going to be fun. The chance to continue to play in some kind of professional league, that’s all we really wanted.”

The teams will play for $50,000 in prize money and then there will be a four-event tour over the next six months, including an April tournament at the Ball Sports Academy in Angola.

Team Pineapple won back-to-back national titles in United State Volleyball Open events in 2015 and 2016. The current lineup includes former IPFW players Ivan Matos, Shaun Dryden, Luis Bertran, Will Robbins and Omar Riveria and former Ball State players Matt Leske and Kevin Owens. About half of those players were part of the 2016 title team.

The other teams include players on squads from New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Arizona and California.

“It’s just nice to see that somebody is really trying to help American volleyball players,” Robbins said, “and investing in a pro league that hopefully one day will be able to give our professional players an option to stay home and play the game that they love as opposed to going overseas like so many of us have had to do. It would be huge for volleyball in America, giving the young kids something to aspire to, to be able to see professional players and volleyball at that level.”

Ball has already received many inquiries from other international players asking how they can play.

“I’ve continued to stay in shape, but I’ve really cranked it up the last four or five weeks,” he said. “I’m a realist and I realize 45 is not 35. I know that I can compete and our team is still very, very good, good enough to have a shot at the $50,000 grand prize.

“This is just really people who want to see a pro league here and want to play volleyball. It’s pure.”

But how well is Ball able to play at age 45?

“Obviously he takes care of himself so he’s in good shape and he’s still 6-9,” Robbins said. “From a setters standpoint, that gives him a huge advantage. When you’ve been setting for so many years, for him it’s going into the gym and spending one or two days and knocking the rust off. Then he’s back to playing high-level volleyball where he could probably still go anywhere in the world still at his age and play. I don’t know that his body would last a whole season, but he could for sure go out there and play some great volleyball and be one of the best setters in the world again for three or four days.”