Rise Announce First Player Signings

Rise Announce First Player Signings

2022 All-American Claire Chaussee, Bulgarian Vet Emiliya Dimitrova, and Michigan State’s Alyssa Garvelink-Jensen Join Grand Rapids’ Pro Volleyball Federation Franchise

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The Grand Rapids Rise on Thursday announced the first three player signings for their Pro Volleyball Federation franchise, securing outside hitter Claire Chaussee (SHAW-say), opposite Emiliya Dimitrova (eh-MEEL-yah dih-mih-TROH-vah), and middle blocker Alyssa Garvelink-Jensen (GAHR-veh-leenk).

Chaussee, the Atlantic Coast Conference’s 2022 Player of the Year, recently completed her rookie pro campaign in Italy with CBF Balducci HR Macerata. The 6-foot native of Sun Prairie, Wis., played five seasons (2018-22) at the University of Louisville, culminating in a berth in the 2022 NCAA championship game. As a senior, Chaussee garnered spots on the AVCA All-American First Team and the Final Four All-Tournament Team, and she was named the AVCA All-East Region Player of the Year.

“Claire is a player who evolved over her time at Louisville.  The strides she made over the years are a testament to her work ethic, ability to grow and the stellar staff at Louisville. Claires amazing athleticism, jumping ability, competitiveness makes her a fan favorite. She is hungry to learn and is so fiery! I was really encouraged when I watched her in her first season in Italy.   Italy is recognized as one of the top leagues in the World and Claire became one of the top players on her team and in the league for her position,” said Rise head coach Cathy George. “I am excited to work with her as she continues to develop her game in the Pro Volleyball Federation!” 

The 23-year-old was named to the AVCA All-East Region Honorable Mention Team and the All-ACC Second Team in 2021, when she registered 2.84 kills per set. As a sophomore, she helped guide the Cardinals to their first Elite Eight appearance in program history. Throughout Chaussee’s five campaigns at Louisville, she averaged 3.02 kills per set with an attack percentage of 0.250. On the defensive side of the net, Chaussee averaged 1.38 digs per set and 0.30 blocks per set.

“To be able to play the game I love at the highest level in the U.S. means the world to me,” Chaussee said. “It’s going to allow us female athletes to create real connections with fans and teammates. To top it off, being closer to our friends and family makes it that much more enjoyable.”

Dimitrova comes to Grand Rapids with 14 years of professional experience throughout Europe and Asia. A native of Shumen, Bulgaria, she most recently competed for VBC Trasporti Pesanti Casalmaggiore in Italy during the 2022-23 season. The 31-year-old has captured five medals, including two gold, for the Bulgarian National Team, earning her first national hardware in 2010 in the European Golden League.

“Emiliya is going to be our ‘mama bear’ as her experience will be a great asset to our team. She’s been playing at the highest level for a decade, is a huge point scorer, and understands the game very well,” George said. “I think for her, it’s her amazing intensity, passion for the game, no-nonsense attitude that sets her apart. She is willing to work and continue to learn because she always wants to improve.  She is a major point scorer which will be huge for our team from the opposite position.  Emiliya is focused on helping this team and the Pro Volleyball Federation a huge success.” 

Dimitrova began her pro career at Slavia Sofia in Bulgaria during the 2007-08 campaign. She has since suited up for 12 different clubs in five countries (Bulgaria, Italy, Japan, Romania, Turkey). At the club level, the 6-foot-1 opposite has collected 18 medals, which includes four gold medals with three separate organizations. She most recently earned gold with VC Maritza in the Bulgarian League during the 2019-20 campaign.

“Playing across the world is going to be an amazing experience. I’m looking forward to meeting new people, a new culture, and trying a different volleyball style,” Dimitrova said. “I’m so thankful to the Grand Rapids Rise for the opportunity to make my dream come true. I think so many players were waiting for a professional volleyball league in the United States, and it’s really exciting for me to be part of it from the very beginning.”

Garvelink-Jensen grew up in Holland, Mich., and played at Michigan State University from 2014-17. The 6-foot-4 blocker was a two-time AVCA Second-Team All-American as a Spartan in addition to being a two-time First-Team All-Big Ten selection. During her senior season in 2017, Garvelink-Jensen ranked fourth in the Big Ten and 25th nationally with 1.35 blocks per set while also placing 36th in the NCAA and sixth in the conference with a hitting percentage of 0.374.

“Alyssa is a dominating middle, who is quick, athletic, and a very good read blocker. She has the ability to score both with her blocking and attacking,” George said. “She is very intense, competitive, and can take over matches. Alyssa was also a player who improved quickly in college and will continue to improve through this opportunity.  She always finds a way to win.”  

As a junior, Garvelink-Jensen ranked second in the Big Ten with 1.40 blocks per set, which was good for seventh all time in a single season at MSU. She also recorded 145 block assists and 160 total blocks, which ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, in the MSU single-season record book. Throughout her four years as a Spartan, Garvelink-Jensen captured 1,002 kills, 521 blocks and 1,298 points. Before moving to the collegiate ranks, the Holland Christian High School alum was named a Michigan Miss Volleyball Finalist.

“Having the opportunity to play professional volleyball in the U.S., and even better, in my home state, is a dream come true. The Pro Volleyball Federation and the Grand Rapids Rise made it possible for me to pursue my passion while also remaining close to family,” Garvelink-Jensen said. “Grand Rapids is full of great sports teams, but this league is the missing piece of the puzzle.”

Founded in December 2022 as the first Pro Volleyball Federation franchise and Grand Rapids’ first major-league women’s sports team, the Grand Rapids Rise will make their debut at Van Andel Arena in January 2024. Led by longtime Michigan State and Western Michigan head coach Cathy George, the Rise’s 14-player roster will play 24 games (12 home, 12 away) during their inaugural season. The team is operated by DP Fox Sports & Entertainment and owned by Dan DeVos, who is also co-owner and CEO of the American Hockey League’s Grand Rapids Griffins. Visit grrise.com.