Sports

Local volleyball player rising in the ranks of professional men’s volleyball overseas

Avery Aylsworth initially developed a passion for baseball, but he pivoted to volleyball in middle school and is now playing the sport professionally in Europe after being a standout player at St. Francis High School and Loyola University in Chicago.

His goal is to make the U.S. Men’s National Volleyball Team before leaving his athletic career behind for a job in high finance.

Growing up with sports

Avery Aylsworth
Aylsworth

Growing up in the Cambrian neighborhood of San Jose with his older brother, Evan, Aylsworth spent a lot of his time playing sports, particularly baseball.

“(There was) a lot of baseball growing up. Every weekend it would be a different city, a different hotel, driving through a different … town,” Aylsworth said.

Having a strong and competitive relationship with his brother eventually led him to another sport.

“He made the transition from baseball to volleyball, so I just kind of followed suit, being the little brother,” Aylsworth said.

Aylsworth soon joined his brother at the new Mountain View Volleyball Club and played there for six years.

For his 2014-15 senior season, Aylsworth said he moved to another volleyball club, Pacific Rim in Pleasant Hill, to play at a higher level of competition in preparation for college.

High school life

Aylsworth also played for St. Francis, a school he wanted to attend since sixth grade. Inspired by James Shaw, a U.S. Men’s National Volleyball Team member who graduated from the school, Aylsworth set his sights on playing varsity his freshman year.

“I was fortunate enough to play a year up when I was at Mountain View,” Aylsworth said. “I had a sense of what high school volleyball was going to be like.”

Aylsworth started the season on JV, though he practiced with the varsity squad after his practice was over, and was called up for the playoffs. St. Francis won a Central Coast Section title that season.

Aylsworth didn’t play much on that team, but he was a key contributor going forward. As a senior, he helped the Lancers win league, CCS and regional championships.

Volleyball at Loyola

Being a libero – a defensive specialist player who rarely scores points – Aylsworth said he was underrecruited. His few college choices came down to the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Lewis University in Illinois, UC San Diego and Loyola University.

Loyola was the only school that did not offer him at least a partial scholarship, but it was too hard for him to resist due to financial opportunities. Aylsworth said the school’s strong business undergraduate program and its location in a financial hub like Chicago were “awesome.”

After adjusting to the college game his freshman year and earning a bigger role as a sophomore, Aylsworth was a standout player as a junior and senior.

In his senior season in 2015, Aylsworth reached his career-high in digs (249) – the fifth-most in school history – to bring his career total to 609, the sixth-highest number in Loyola history.

Playing abroad

Coming out of college, Aylsworth’s only option was to play internationally, because “if you are an indoor player and you want to make the Olympic team or the national team, you need to go play in Europe for the development,” he said.

Recruitment again proved difficult for Aylsworth, especially with limitations on foreign players. It didn’t help that he plays libero.

“Because you’re not scoring points for your team, it’s sometimes hard for teams to value you and give up a spot for their foreigners, when they can just have a local kid pass OK, play OK defense and pay out a lot more money to these foreigners who will be able to hit and score physical points for the team,” he said.

Being an American, Aylsworth also needed to hire an agent to navigate European standards and law, and he said many of the agents don’t want to take on foreign liberos because it’s harder to find them a team and they have smaller contracts than other players.

“(I) was just sending out lots of emails, lots of texts, you know, leveraging my network, making sure I could talk to the right people who could put me in touch with more people who could put me in touch with more people,” he said.

Aylsworth signed with his current agency, Volleyball Agency Company, which landed him an offer from the Finnish team Raision Loimu at the beginning of the 2019-20 season.

“Finland is a really popular spot for first-year players, and so a lot of these clubs, … they have a lot of former Americans who play there for their first or second year, and then go off to different leagues,” Aylsworth said.

He added that Finland had multiple benefits, including better pay, a style of league similar to the NCAA and a welcoming and determined group of coaches and teammates.

After his season in Finland, Aylsworth decided to move on. As he contemplated returning to the U.S. to join the Costa Mesa Stunners, Aylsworth said he received a better offer from the southern German team VfB Friedrichshafen.

The process of joining another European team wasn’t as straightforward as one might expect, however, especially given the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic woes related to it.

“Teams are a lot more sensitive to economic changes in Europe than they are in America,” Aylsworth said. “They don’t have nearly as big budgets.”

The difficult journey paid off, though, with Aylsworth joining VfB Friedrichshafen, a team at the top of its league and one that he said has the same competitive and supportive environment as he had in Finland.

What’s next

While Aylsworth has enjoyed his time playing for VfB Friedrichshafen, he doesn’t expect to be in Germany for more than a few years.

“It is a little bit unique in European volleyball, where there aren’t guys like Stephen Curry or Kobe who stay with their team for 10-plus years,” Aylsworth said. “It’s … very rare for that to happen. (There are) only a few guys … that have stayed with a team for more than five years.”

After volleyball, Aylsworth said he is interested in working for a private equity or venture capital firm.

“So, for my position, … it’s possible to play until your mid-30s, but it always kind of depends on how … my career is progressing,” he said. “If there’s a point where I’m no longer progressing – I’m just plateauing or I’m regressing at this point – I’m … (going to) make sure that I’m preparing for a career outside of volleyball.”

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