Pro volleyball team in P.R. signs UVI's deLugo


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ST. THOMAS - Alvaro deLugo doesn't really speak Spanish, but he's learning as fast as he can. The lessons aren't taking place in a classroom but on the volleyball court.

The St. Thomas native signed a contract with a professional volleyball team in Mayaguez this summer and will become the first known Virgin Islander to compete in the Superior Volleyball League, which is organized by the Puerto Rican Volleyball Federation.

"To tell you the truth, I really don't know how to explain it," deLugo said Thursday from the team's practice facility. "It feels great, and I'm just so happy for the opportunity to compete on a professional level."

DeLugo was a four-year starter and team captain for the men's volleyball and basketball teams at the University of the Virgin Islands before he graduated in May with a computer science degree.

His grandmother was born in Fajardo, and when deLugo was in college, the Bucs regularly visited Puerto Rico. UVI is one of 21 schools that compete in the Liga Athletica Interuniversitaria, which includes many Puerto Rican college sports programs.

"Al playing professionally in Puerto Rico is just another benefit of playing in the LAI," UVI athletic director Peter Sauer said. "These guys may not make the NBA, but they can make good money in Puerto Rico, and competing there during college gives them even more exposure."

DeLugo was one of the leading scorers for the Bucs volleyball team from the left outside hitter position, and several LAI teams picked up on his talents. But he wasn't noticed by the pro league until a coach from the North America, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Federation came to St. Thomas for a two-week camp this summer.

"It was like a tryout for the tryout," deLugo said.

The coach was interested in deLugo right away and invited him back to Puerto Rico to work out with the Mayaguez squad. He made the team and has been living there the last few weeks.

"That coach from Puerto Rico came over here for two weeks and found out our boys can play," said UVI volleyball coach Curtis Gilpin, who has been working with deLugo since his days at Charlotte Amalie High School.

"It's no surprise to me that Al will play in that league. While playing in LAI, he saw some of the best teams from Puerto Rico, and he plays an aggressive position, so he will be successful."

The Superior League has nine different teams, and the 26-game regular season starts in two weeks. If the Mayaguez team performs as well as deLugo predicts, it will be playing for a league title in late January. Mayaguez has never advanced past the semifinals.

The team's coach is from Argentina and speaks very little English, so deLugo has looked to teammates to help him bridge the language gap.

"We're starting to understand together," said deLugo, who also has teammates from Brazil and the U.S. mainland. "I have a broad understanding of most things, but when coach gets specific, my teammates help out and translate. We're a team and we stick together. No language barriers. I'm really learning a lot about volleyball and Spanish."

DeLugo's ultimate goal is to learn what he can in Puerto Rico and bring his volleyball knowledge back to the USVI.

"My teammates are kind of amazed at my story and where I came from," deLugo said. "We don't have the best facilities here and the volleyball can be so much better. I would love to come back one day and help improve the game here. I look at this as an opportunity for me and the Virgin Islands."

- Contact sports writer Aaron Gray at 774-8772 ext. 352 or email agray@dailynews.vi.

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