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New Women’s Volleyball Footwear Brand Avoli Launches with 3 NIL Signings 

Last Updated: July 24, 2023
The first and only footwear brand specifically made for female volleyball athletes is launching its debut sneaker next week. 

Despite volleyball being the top participation team sport for young women in the US, searching for volleyball-specific shoes has largely led these athletes to some form of basketball shoe over the years.

Until now. 

Founded in Portland, Ore., a new company Avoli (pronounced ‘Ah-Volley’) has launched with decades of combined athletic industry experience from its executive team fueling its foray into footwear

Rick Anguilla and Mark Oleson, who both held executive roles at companies such as adidas, Lululemon, Nike, and Under Armour, together noticed a need and grey area in the marketplace. The insight simply came from seeing their daughters compete across the high school and elite club circuit, where they noticed athletes struggled to find footwear made for their sport, and specifically, made for women. 

“Girls’ volleyball participation is experiencing a remarkable surge,” said Anguilla. “Simply put, these athletes are underserved.”

To kick off the company’s jumpstart into the space, Avoli has signed three of the top collegiate volleyball players across the country to NIL deals as founding brand ambassadors. Harper Murray, a 6-2 freshman outside hitter at Nebraska that entered college as the nation’s No. 1 ranked player after growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Winner of the 2022 Gatorade High School National Player of the Year Award, “Harps” also won the “Best Spiker” award at the 2022 Pan American Cup, where she helped lead the U-19 Team USA to a gold medal.

Adding to the debut class of NIL signings are Ashley Le, a junior setter at the University of Virginia, and Reilly Heinrich, who holds the libero role on the reigning national champion University of Texas squad. 

[L-R]: Reilly Heinrich, Harper Murray & Ashley Le

“Harper, Ashley, and Reilly represent the commitment to the sport we see across school and club teams and we’re thrilled to have them as our first brand ambassadors,” said Anguilla.

While Nebraska’s team is sponsored by Adidas, both Virginia and Texas are sponsored by Nike. But as we’ve seen in NIL signings across women’s college basketball, athletes such as Flau’jae Johnson, Azzi Fudd, and Hailey Van Lith have been impactful endorsers, even if their NIL brand deal partner conflicts with their team’s on-court sponsor. 

The trio of Murray, Le, and Heinrich will serve as brand ambassadors for Avoli, appear in brand campaigns and activations, and look to highlight the brand across their social media channels.

To start, a low-top sneaker will first debut, with additional silhouettes and designs to come. Rather than share existing “tooling” from basketball models like several competing volleyball shoes, the Avoli sneaker is framed as being specifically made-for-women, from the inception and starting point of the design and development process. The company will also launch performance knee pads and volleyball-tailored performance shorts.

In working with a women-led design team and drafting from the insights of elite players from around the country, the debut Avoli sneaker is crafted with a more tailored midfoot, a targeted heel fit, and a biomechanically contoured outsole to better suit the vertical and lateral forces of the sport. A sloping rubberized rand circles the upper, offering added durability.

“Not only do men’s basketball shoes lack in meeting the demands of the unique movements of volleyball, but it ignores the physiology differences between men and women athletes which can prevent injury and optimize performance,” said Oleson. “They’re very different games when it comes to the feet, especially since volleyball players in an average game jump and land two-to-four times more than their basketball counterparts.”

The founders had repeatedly heard stories from their daughters about players rushing back to hotel rooms after tournament games, looking to be first to grab their room’s hair dryer in order to dry out their sweaty shoes ahead of their next game. Along the outsole of the Avoli shoe is a four-port ventilated design, that allows for more airflow into a perforated insole and through a mesh upper. 

In recent years, the growth of the game at the grassroots level has been explosive. High School volleyball participation for girls has spiked 15% since 2022, with club teams also boasting record roster numbers, according to a report from the National Federation of State High School Associations. 

A trio of professional leagues, including the Pro Volleyball Federation, Athletes Unlimited, and League One Volleyball, have also been launched to look to meet the growing excitement around the sport. 

Last month, Avoli closed on the first $1 million phase of a $1.5 million investment seed round.

Next month on Aug. 30, the University of Nebraska will host “Volleyball Day,” an outdoor volleyball tournament at the Lincoln campus’ football stadium. 

Harper Murray is expected to receive considerable attention leading up to the event, as her Huskers will play host to the University of Nebraska Omaha in what could become the most attended women’s sporting event ever. Early reports have already indicated that nearly 90,000 tickets have been sold for the match.

The game will dwarf the current volleyball attendance record of 18,755 for the 2021 national championship game. The highest-ever attended women’s sporting event to date was the 1999 World Cup Final between China and the US, which drew 90,185 fans. 

As Anguilla and Oleson see it, Avoli will aim to have a place in not only the performance and look of the sport, but also in shaping the future culture of volleyball altogether.

“Along with our early investors, we firmly believe we are poised for an exceptional opportunity to be the first and only company to cater to the needs of these dedicated athletes,” framed Anguilla.

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About The Author
Nick DePaula
Nick DePaula
Nick DePaula covers the footwear industry and endorsement deals surrounding the sporting landscape, with an emphasis on athlete and executive interviews. The Sacramento, California, native has been based in Portland, Oregon, for the last decade, a main hub of sneaker company headquarters. He’ll often argue that How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days is actually an underrated movie, largely because it’s the only time his Sacramento Kings have made the NBA Finals.