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Atlanta Area Teams Offer Fans Many Sports Options

by Fran Stuchbury
February 8, 2024 - Pro Volleyball Federation (PVF) - Atlanta Vibe


The Atlanta Gladiators take on the South Carolina Stingrays
The Atlanta Gladiators take on the South Carolina Stingrays
(Atlanta Gladiators, Credit: Fran Stuchbury)

Atlanta and the surrounding area is a hotbed for sports. Most fans know about the metro area's three major league teams: the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, NBA's Atlanta Hawks and MLB's Atlanta Braves. The Dream of the Women's National Basketball Association and United FC of Major League Soccer have achieved significant local followings as well. Still, the area has much more to offer.

Gas South Arena in Duluth, Georgia, had scheduled events for four straight days this past weekend featuring sports leagues on OurSports Central including the Pro Volleyball Federation's Atlanta Vibe hosting its home opener against the San Diego Mojo on Thursday, the National Lacrosse League's Georgia Swarm facing the Vancouver Warriors on Friday night, and the ECHL's Atlanta Gladiators welcoming the South Carolina Stingrays on Saturday and Sunday.

Atlanta-Gwinnett County hosts a wide variety of minor league and alternative teams including:

  • Atlanta United 2 - MLS NEXT Pro

  • Atlanta Hustle - Ultimate Frisbee Association

  • Georgia Force - Arena Football League

  • College Park Skyhawks - NBA G League - College Park, Georgia

  • Gwinnett Stripers - International League

Gas South Arena opened in 2013 and boasts a seating capacity of 13,100. It has been home to the following sports teams:

  • Atlanta Gladiators - ECHL - 2003-present

  • Georgia Swarm - National Lacrosse League - 2016-present

  • Georgia Force - Arena Football League - 2003-2004, 2008, 2011-2012

  • Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets - 2011-2012

  • Atlanta Steam/Atlanta Empire - Lingerie Football League/Extreme Football League - 2013-2019, 2022

  • Atlanta Vibe - Pro Volleyball Federation - 2024-present

The Atlanta market even had a Major League Rugby team, Atlanta's Rugby ATL which played from 2021-2023.

Brand new to the market is the Vibe of the Pro Volleyball Federation.

The league started its inaugural season with seven teams: the Atlanta Vibe, Columbus Fury, Grand Rapids Rise, Omaha Supernovas, Orlando Valkyries, San Diego Mojo and Las Vegas Thrill. Expansion teams announced for the 2025 season already include the Indy Ignite, Dallas and Kansas City.

The day before the Atlanta Vibe home opener the team revealed that four-time NBA All-Star Paul Millsap had invested in the franchise. Millsap joined the group comprised of Colleen Craig, Sinjin Smith and Edwin Moses.

"I've been closely observing the recent surge in women's sports, and joining the exciting initiative that the Vibe is cultivating here in Atlanta felt like the natural progression in my career," said Millsap. "Being a father of girls, it holds great significance for me to ensure that they recognize the plethora of opportunities we are shaping for them in athletics. Having navigated the challenges myself as a retired professional athlete, I truly understand the dedication and effort required for these players to achieve success."

A one-on-one interview with Millsap:

Vibe ticket prices run the gamut from $12 on the low end to $116 floor seats, and the team was prepared with a wide range of merchandise as well.

Unlike indoor football in which footballs that go into the stands can be kept by fans, in the Pro Volleyball Federation volleyballs which travel into the crowd must be returned.

One fan taking in the Vibe opener sported a Georgia Swarm cap. It turned out to be Swarm forward Shayne Jackson, the 2020 NLL MVP in a season cut short due to COVID-19. In just 12 games he finished with 31 goals and 42 assists.

Jackson and the assembled throng of 6,100 enjoyed a dominant Vibe performance, three wins to nothing against the San Diego Mojo: 25-17, 25-15, 25-16.

To get a feel for the action, here was one long rally point in the first game.

That was one of outside hitter Leah Edmonds 16 kills. She was named Pro Volleyball Federation Player of the Week in the second week for the season with 16 kills, 20 points, two blocks, and two aces.

Edmonds played volleyball at Kentucky where she consistently earned First-Team All-SEC honors. She earned the SEC Player of the Year as both a junior (2018) and a senior (2019).

Grace Cleveland totaled the second most kills with eight on the night. Cleveland played at Purdue where she was a three-time First Team All-Big Ten performer and 2021 Purdue Athlete of the Year. She was also an assistance coach at Butler in 2023.

The head coach of the Altanta Vibe is Todd Dagenais who previously served as head coach at the University of Central Florida for 15 years.

"We've tried in the United States for decades, and it hasn't worked for one business model reason or another," he said when joining the new pro league. "This is the business model I've been looking for."

Coaching professionals has left Dagenais more time at home with his two children Jocelyn and Luc as opposed to the grind of recruiting for college volleyball.

In a losing effort for the Mojo, outside hitter Temi Thomas-Aliara led the team with 10 kills. She played at Wisconsin, earning 2020, 2021 and 2022 First-Team All-Big Ten honors.

Opposite Hitter Lindsay Stalzer added six kills. Stalzer played at Bradley and played overseas from 2007 until 2020 along with being a member of the United States National Team since 2001.

The owner of the Mojo, which plays home games at Viejas Arena, is Kerri Walsh Jennings, a well-decorated beach volleyball competitor who won three Olympic gold medals. Helping lead the California franchise is team President Billy Johnson, a veteran executive in professional sports and entertainment, who most recently was named 2023 ECHL Executive of the Year after his first complete season as president of Norfolk Admirals.

Two-time Olympic Silver Medallist Tayyiba Haneef-Park serves as San Diego's head coach. She seeks to replicate her success as an assistant coach with the University of Oregon, where she helped lead the Ducks to a second-place finish in the 2022 Pac-12 with a program-record 17 conference wins.

Vibe fans chanted, "A - T - L," short for Atlanta, during the volleys.

Fans stayed engaged throughout the game, some prepared with signs showing their support, and participating in the wave.

After the Vibe's electric performance before a solid crowd on Thursday, the NLL's Georgia Swarm took the arena floor Friday against the Vancouver Warriors.

Professional indoor, or box, lacrosse started in earnest back in 1987 as the Eagle Box Pro League before rebranding in 1989 as the Major Indoor Lacrosse League. Indoor lacrosse transitioned to the National Lacrosse League in 1998, and the league currently features 15 teams.

The Georgia Swarm have a long NLL history. Started in 2002 as the Montreal Express, the franchise became the Minnesota Swarm playing in St. Paul from 2004 until 2015. In 2016 they relocated to Atlanta and became the Georgia Swarm. Ed Comeau has been head coach since the inaugural season. The Swarm won a NLL Championship in 2017, defeating the Saskatchewan Rush two games to none.

Their opponent, the Vancouver Warriors, have existed even longer. They were known as the Albany Attack from 2000-2003, San Jose Stealth from 2004-2009, Washington Stealth from 2010-2013 and Vancouver Stealth from 2014-2018 where they took the place of the defunct Vancouver Ravens (2002-2004). Finally, the team rebranded as the Vancouver Warriors.

Ticket prices range from $12 to $61 for Swarm home games.

In a nice local touch, the Wesleyan Middle School band played outside before the game and then during halftime under the direction of band director Dr. Ruthie Colegrove.

The Georgia Swarm defeated the Vancouver Warriors 12-11 in overtime in front of 6,957 fans, snapping a three-game losing streak.

The entertainment value of a National Lacrosse League game is high, like going to a sports event and concert at the same time. The team utilized sports-themed music, and before the start of the fourth quarter the lights were turned off in the arena, allowing fans to use the lights on their cell phones while singing "Sweet Caroline." Swarm public address announcer Tim Hanchey did an outstanding job keeping fans engaged during the game as well as getting them excited for overtime.

As in indoor football, when balls go into the stands, fans can keep them.

The Warriors tied it late in the fourth quarter at 11-11 on a goal by forward Adam Charalambides, before Georgia forward Andrew Kew beat the shot clock with the game-winning goal in sudden-death overtime, his fourth score of the game. The score withstood a lengthy replay delay to ensure he shot in time.

"It was a couple of possessions back and forth in overtime," said Kew "A little bit sloppy, and then late in the clock, I was just try to get one on net there. Ended up going far hip. It was just exciting that we we needed that one for sure coming off three losses to get our groove back. So it feels good and hopefully we can carry momentum going forward."

"I think close ones like that are definitely more exciting, obviously, than a blowout and it was loud in there tonight," added Kew. "It was a great atmosphere. So I hope it was a good product and we continue to get more fans and build a good atmosphere here so it's really wild."

Forward Seth Oakes, celebrating his birthday, led the Swarm with five goals and two assists to get over 100 career points in the NLL.

Swarm coach Ed Comeau has seen a lot of the league over the years. He was head coach of the New York Titans which lost to the Calgary Roughnecks in the 2009 NLL Championship before moving with the team to Orlando in 2010. Orlando went 11-5 that season before losing to the Toronto Rock in the Eastern Conference Finals.

"Orlando was a great experience," he remembered. "We lost the year before with New York in the championship game, the final, and we thought we were going to be right there the next year, and we finished first again in the East and lost in the semi final. But it was great, and I thought Orlando could have been a really good market, and we were getting fans down there. Our owner decided to end the franchise, but it was a great experience. Our guys loved it down there and and there's nothing like southern hospitality. Whether you're in Georgia or Florida, people are great, and (it was) a great experience for us."

Comeau was also familiar with another southern city, Raleigh, NC, where he attended college.

"It could be a great opportunity if it's the right thing and right ownership group," Comeau said of Raleigh as a possible NLL market. "I think also the growth of lacrosse just outside of the normal kind of hotbeds we've seen in Georgia, Florida... all over and I'm sure there's lots of lacrosse. I have some friends in the Carolina area that are involved in lacrosse, and it's growing so yeah, it'd be a great market and give the league other teams can in the South, which would be great."

On Saturday, the lacrosse field disappeared in favor of ice as the Atlanta Gladiators closed out the weekend against the South Carolina Stingrays in ECHL action.

The ECHL began play as the East Coast Hockey League in 1988 and currently features 28 teams, Two more teams will be added for the 2024-25 season with California's Tahoe Knight Monsters, owned partly by former football star Tim Tebow, and the Bloomington Bison in Illinois.

Atlanta played as the Gwinnett Gladiators from 2003 until 2015, winning the 2005-2006 Eastern Conference championship. They rebranded as the Atlanta Gladiators at the start of the 2015 season and currently serve as an affiliate of the NHL's Nashville Predators and American Hockey League's Milwaukee Admirals.

Ticket prices range from $21 to $46.

Atlanta has twice hosted NHL teams. From 1972 to 1980 the Flames called the city home before moving to Calgary, while the Atlanta Thrashers played from 1999 until 2011 before relocating to Winnipeg and becoming the Winnipeg Jets.

The push for an NHL team continues.

Atlanta's opponent Saturday, the South Carolina Stingrays, have been in the ECHL since 1993, winning three Kelly Cup Championships in 1997, 2001 and 2009. Their affiliates are the NHL's Washington Capitals and AHL's Hershey Bears.

Playing their third game in as many days, the Gladiators fell to the Stingrays 4-0 in front of 6,713 fans. South Carolina jumped out to a 2-0 lead with goals from defenseman Nick Leivermann and forward Austin Magera sending a contingent of traveling Stingrays fans into celebration.

Forward Jack Adams scored the final two goals for the Stingrays in the second period, and in the third period goaltender Garin Bjorklund finished a 36-save performance and recorded his first professional shutout.

As it turned out, 25-30 fans drove four and a half hours from North Charleston, South Carolina on Friday to make it to the Georgia Swarm's NLL game as well as both Stingrays games Saturday and Sunday.

With goals out of reach, a hockey fight riled up the crowd. Gladiators rookie forward Spencer Kennedy and six-year Stingrays veteran defenseman Josh Thrower traded punches.

Promotions included a kiss cam in the first period sponsored by a dentist, a dance cam with $50 for a particularly entertaining move, and a chuck-a-puck contest with the winner pocketing a $500 Kroger gift card.

Highlights from the game:

South Carolina dominated Sunday's finale as well, 6-0, in front of 4,525 fans.




Images from this story

Gas South Arena
Gas South Arena

(Fran Stuchbury)
Workers set up the Atlanta Vibe court
Workers set up the Atlanta Vibe court

(Fran Stuchbury)
The crowd at the Atlanta Vibe opener
The crowd at the Atlanta Vibe opener

(Fran Stuchbury)
The crowd at the Atlanta Vibe opener
The crowd at the Atlanta Vibe opener

(Fran Stuchbury)
The Wesleyan Middle School band plays before the Georgia Swarm game
The Wesleyan Middle School band plays before the Georgia Swarm game

(Fran Stuchbury)
The Wesleyan Middle School band plays at halftime of the Georgia Swarm game
The Wesleyan Middle School band plays at halftime of the Georgia Swarm game

(Fran Stuchbury)
A look at the Georgia Swarm's field
A look at the Georgia Swarm's field

(Fran Stuchbury)
A kids lacrosse game during a break in action at the Georgia Swarm game
A kids lacrosse game during a break in action at the Georgia Swarm game

(Fran Stuchbury)
Phone lights illuminate Gas South Arena during a Georgia Swarm game
Phone lights illuminate Gas South Arena during a Georgia Swarm game

(Fran Stuchbury)
A look at the action as the Georgia Swarm take on the Vancouver Warriors
A look at the action as the Georgia Swarm take on the Vancouver Warriors

(Fran Stuchbury)
The ice is littered duing chuck-a-puck at an Atlanta Gladiators game
The ice is littered duing chuck-a-puck at an Atlanta Gladiators game

(Fran Stuchbury)
Action at an Atlanta Gladiators game
Action at an Atlanta Gladiators game

(Fran Stuchbury)
The Atlanta Gladiators take on the South Carolina Stingrays
The Atlanta Gladiators take on the South Carolina Stingrays

(Fran Stuchbury)
  

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