In only their first season in the NVA, the Chicago Untouchables have made their way into the finals after a long-fought regular season. With a distinctive and geographically diverse roster, including previous Tennessee Tyrants and Team Freedom players, the Untouchables have managed to come out with some impressive first appearance performances. Especially from Puerto Rican Libero, Juan-Rosa “JJ” Melendez, who is finally getting his exposure here in the United States after having an early career in the Puerto Rican professional league since 2011.
Wanting to play for the University of Puerto Rico at Bayamon’s Division II program, JJ missed out on his collegiate experience due to the NCAA restrictions on professional players. But JJ still gained valuable experiences in Puerto Rico, nominated for the 2013 rookie of the year with the Maratonistas de Coamo and winning the 2018 Federation Cup with the Criollos de Caguas. Now looking like a seasoned veteran in the NVA, JJ is making his job look easy against the other competitors in the league. In his first NVA season, he is now ranked 23rd for perfect passing percentage and has racked up an impressive 55 digs (2.3 digs per set).
From the age of seven, JJ has been influenced by the woman’s game, learning how to play the game from practicing and playing with his older sisters. Additionally, JJ was inspired to play professionally by his older cousin, Jorge Alifonso (tripod.com), who played at the University of Hawaii and Lewis University back in the late 90’s a long career in Puerto Rico. Even today, JJ study’s other woman’s national team liberos before each game to get himself ready to compete.
“Normally leading up to a match, I look for film on the other team’s first set to see their lineups and initial play style. Then before I warm up, I watch highlight videos of Brenda Castillo and Jenia Grebennikov to visualize how I want to play when I’m in the game.” – Juan-Rosa Melendez.
Looking back on his journey from Puerto Rico to the NVA, JJ now feels like he has been able to break barriers as an LGBTQ+ player at the professional level. JJ would tell any younger player not to let the negative perceptions of other players and coaches stop you from pursuing their dreams.
“Now that I’m here playing at this level, it shows that there is a chance for everyone to make it if you are willing to put in the work and develop yourself. I now have so many LGBTQ+ friends coming to me asking how to play at this level. I say to all of them, don’t worry, if I can make it here, so can you.” – Juan-Rosa Melendez.
Fans can catch Juan Rosa, and the Untouchables make their push into the playoffs as they take on Southern Exposure, on July 9th. Make sure to give JJ (@rosa_juan18), the Chicago Untouchables (@untouchables_nvausa), and the NVA (@nvausa) a follow-on Instagram to stay up with the team and catch highlight clips from Event 3.
Happy PRIDE Month, Everyone!
- By NVA Staff Writer