Opening The Volleyball Nations League At Home Is An Opportunity To Shine For Annie Drews, U.S. Women
by Steve Drumwright
Team United States poses after defeating Team Serbia at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on August 06, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
It made sense that Annie Drews was scrambling from one thing to another on the morning of Memorial Day. She was hopping into an elevator following a weightlifting session and on her way to a photo shoot as the U.S. women’s indoor volleyball team was getting ready to start another season of the FIVB Volleyball Nations League.
And there was still more to do.
It was a busy holiday for Drews and the national team, but this is an exciting time for a team that’s at the pinnacle of the sport.
Drews, a 6-foot-4 opposite hitter from Elkhart, Indiana, is beginning her fourth season playing in the VNL, with the opening round starting Tuesday against the Dominican Republic at Brookshire Grocery Arena in Bossier City, Louisiana, and continuing through Sunday. In all three of the previous seasons of the league (it wasn’t held in 2020 due to COVID-19), the U.S. walked away as VNL champ, with Drews being named MVP in 2019.
The Americans enter this season as the No. 1 team in the world after winning the program’s first Olympic gold medal last summer in Tokyo.
“We had an incredible finish to last year, the inaugural gold medal for our program,” said Drews, 28, who has been a member of the national team since 2017. “It’s exciting because we have a lot of those core people back and you’ll see them make their debuts throughout the summer, but we also have a lot of young talent, and I think that’s kind of the beauty of our program. No one’s ever sitting completely safe in their position. We just have tons of talent knocking at the door, and it makes us really versatile and I think really hard to compete against.”
Andrea Drews #11 of Team United States strikes against Irina Voronkova #16 of Team ROC and Irina Fetisova #14 during the Women's Preliminary - Pool B volleyball at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on July 31, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan
The Volleyball Nations League is a 16-team league consisting of national teams. There are three weeks of pool play, after which eight teams (including the host, this year Turkey) advance to the quarterfinals. The rosters fluctuate with the availability and performance dictating which 14 from the 25-player pool will be selected for each week.
Opening the 2022 VNL on home soil is an opportunity to help raise the profile of the VNL in the U.S. while also building off the momentum from Tokyo, Drew said.
“In the volleyball world, it’s definitely a tournament that’s well-known,” said Drews, who has been part of every week’s roster in each of the past three seasons. “It’s just extensive. It typically spans three to five weeks, across different countries. So in the volleyball world, I think it’s really common and I think in other countries, they see it as like a big event. I think in America, volleyball in general, we’re still seeing volleyball on the rise.
“And I think having all three women’s programs — indoor, beach and sitting volleyball — take home golds last summer, I think this is a really critical time in our sport in our country where it’s getting that attention. Now it’s: How can we keep that attention, not just people who are tuning in for the Olympics, but how can we kind of make volleyball a little bit more known here?”
International travel is a big part of the VNL. After this week, the U.S. will travel to Quezon City, Philippines, for the second round June 15-19, then to Calgary, Alberta, for the third round June 29-July 4 before the finals in Turkey from July 13-17.
That kind of travel is nothing new for Drews after graduating from Purdue. Since 2016, Drews has played professionally for two teams in Puerto Rico, one in Italy, another in Turkey and the last two seasons in Japan. While she declined to reveal what her plans are for the next season, Drews said she has already notified JT Marvelous, her team in Japan, that she won’t be returning.
“In the past, it’s been much harder if we go straight from place to place,” Drews said, recalling a year in which they traveled from China to Turkey to Argentina and then to the U.S. “We were just week to week all over the place. Now, the season is much different. We get to go home for a week in between simply because our schedule allows it.”
Not every team will have that luxury, Drews noted. Different travel arrangements and border controls will keep certain teams on the road the entire time.
The extra time off will be put to good use by Drews. After all, she is a newlywed. Following the Tokyo Games, she and former Purdue baseball player Tanner Schumacher tied the knot.
“It was awesome,” Drews said. “We had about a month after the Olympics before the wedding to celebrate and it was a big month. It’s been a big year, a good year for the jewelry (laughs). But it was really sweet, and I had a few weeks post-wedding before I went to my season in Japan. And I think that’s always one of the challenges, long-distance relationships in the first few months of marriage. But he’s an awesome partner and supporter and he’s amazing at long distance and we’re just happy to be back. So then this summer, the travel is much easier so we’ll get to spend a lot more time together.”