This was Alayna and Jessica Bunton’s first Nebraska Volleyball Fan Day. They started their day early just so Jessica could drive her daughter down Interstate 80 from Omaha and Alayna could embrace her newfound fandom.
Fan Day at Bob Devaney Sports Center on Saturday, Aug. 20, started at 10 a.m. but the line onto the concourse started well before. By 9:30 a.m., it stretched from the center’s doors and onto the sidewalk heading west. New arrivals found themselves at the north doors of the Francis Allen Training Complex minutes before the event began. Younger fans passed the time by practicing their setting or bumping to each other in the grassed area north of the Devaney Sports Center.
Alayna was one of those girls. The elementary schooler just started her own volleyball season this week. She’s been all about volleyball since attending her first Husker volleyball match last year.
“I wasn’t really into volleyball a few years ago,” she said. “But now I really am.”
Once through the gates and onto the concourse, they were greeted by the fan shop and wafting aroma of popcorn. The line steered left through the doors and wrapped around the concourse towards the line of players and coaches ready to sign autographs. Alayna still doesn’t have a favorite player — “I, honestly, don’t even know their names” — so she was happy to meet them all.
Head coach John Cook was at the end of the line and happily signed Alayna’s season schedule poster. Fully through the line and with signatures from all the Huskers, Alayna gave her mother a jumping high five. The two walked away smiling. Jessica wiped a tear from her right cheek.
“It was super cool seeing them in person, wasn’t it?” Jessica asked her daughter.
Through a wide smile, Alayna twirled her newly signed poster, “Yeah.”
Fans of all ages joined in the celebration. Wayne, an active Lincoln Kiwanis Club member, came to get his shirt — reading “The Volleyball School” — signed by this year’s team.
He’s a longtime Husker volleyball fan who was initially attracted to the program for its excellence. That trait has only affirmed his fandom in the years since.
“I love excellence,” he said. “And our volleyball team exudes that. They exude excellence in everything they do, everything they play.”
He still doesn’t have season tickets but he’s got friends who do. He’ll be cheering for the Huskers all season, including from the VIP area for the Pepperdine match.
Fan Day also attracted people of all ages to the celebration. Some wore T-shirts they got following the Huskers around to different NCAA Tournament matches and Final Fours. Of course, there were plenty of National Championship shirts worn through the concourse. Others proudly displayed their own colors, representing different Nebraska high schools.
Members of the nation’s preseason No. 1 team passed advice onto potential future Nebraska volleyball players with wide smiles throughout two hours in front of trophies and dedications to former Huskers. The program’s present interacting with its future while surrounded by its past.
“I saw the other day there was a Fan Day for volleyball,” Jessica Bunton said, looking down at her daughter. “She was pretty stoked about it. She said ‘We need to go, mom.'”