Junior setter Kennedi Orr wrote notes for each of her teammates and coaches ahead of Volleyball Day in Nebraska as a way to reassure them before the program’s attempt to make history at Memorial Stadium Wednesday.
Her message to Coach John Cook proved to be prophetic, and it moved the veteran coach to tears (one of a handful of overwhelmingly emotional moments for him on the day).
“Coach, tonight, the impossible, we’re going to make it possible,” Orr wrote to Cook.
Nebraska did just that as 92,003 fans filled Memorial Stadium to watch the Huskers take on Omaha, topping the previously recognized world record for a women’s sporting event of 91,648 fans.
Volleyball Day in Nebraska featured a pep rally at the NU Coliseum, hours of fan tailgating, a truncated exhibition between Wayne State and UNK and the main event between the Huskers and Mavericks. Country music artist Scotty McCreery closed out the night with a concert for the large number of fans that stuck around.
“It’s a celebration of Nebraska volleyball, all the levels in this state,” Cook said. “We took a chance by playing in Memorial Stadium, and to go for the record and break it, not only did we make a statement to everybody else how important volleyball is here, and we want the record, but we did it to the world. I don’t think anybody ever could have envisioned that when this whole thing started. And so it feels like a great accomplishment for this sport called volleyball, played by the women in Nebraska. It’s a state treasure, and we just proved it.”
Cook himself doubted the stadium would sell out when athletic director Trev Alberts first brought up the idea, but Cook gave his AD credit for believing in the program and the fan base and pushing to go through with it.
NCAA president Charlie Baker, Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti, USA beach volleyball legend Kerri Walsh Jennings, members of both the men’s and women’s USA Volleyball senior national teams and former Husker Gina Mancuso-Prososki (alongside other members of the Omaha Supernovas) were among the dignitaries present for the celebration.
On the court, the No. 4 Huskers took care of business in dominant fashion, holding Omaha to minus-.080 hitting in a 25-14, 25-14, 25-13 sweep. Freshman middle blocker Andi Jackson led the way with eight kills on .500 hitting in her third straight start while fellow freshman Bergen Reilly started again at setter and finished with 19 assists, seven digs and three kills. Lexi Rodriguez led the defensive effort with 15 digs and three aces.
Nebraska took control early with a 6-0 run featuring Merritt Beason at the service line, building up a 10-4 lead that the Huskers continued to extend throughout the set. The lead peaked at 23-10 before Nebraska settled for an 11-point win.
Lindsay Krause led the Huskers with four kills on .429 hitting as Nebraska hit .286 as a team with three aces. The Mavericks hit .034. After feeling things out in an unusual environment early, the Huskers settled in and played at a high level.
“I think the thing that we were all trying to adjust to was just the wind a little bit and just the outside elements,” Rodriguez said. “I think the crowd at first, it’s really big and the depth perception was kind of off, but I feel like once we got going, a crowd is a crowd and we were just all focused on the six people on the court.”
The second set mirrored the first with with Beason serving a 6-0 run to put the Huskers up 10-4 once again. Nebraska extended the lead to nine with a 4-0 serving run from Maisie Boesiger and the Huskers cruised to the finish from there.
Jackson closed out the set with a kill, her fourth on five swings in game two. Nebraska hit .229 and held the Mavericks to minus-.048.
Nebraska announced the attendance between the second and third sets, just in time for the Huskers to hear as they were making their way back to the court.
“We were walking out of the tunnel after the second set and we had heard on the speaker that we had just broken the world record, and I know everyone was trying to stay locked in but we were also so excited,” Jackson said. “So we were celebrating in the tunnel walking out because it’s just incredible and I can’t describe how grateful I am to be a part of it and be a part of Husker nation and just their support.”
Cook began making lineup changes early in set three as Maggie Mendelson replaced Bekka Allick and Ally Batenhorst replaced Krause.
After Beason broke the game open in sets two and three, it was Laney Choboy who served the decisive run in game three, ripping off five straight points including an ace to build a 12-6 lead, and the Huskers rolled to the finish from there. Hayden Kubik checked in late as well as 12 of the 14 players on the roster saw playing time.
Nebraska forced 10 Maverick attack errors, holding Omaha to minus-.353. The Huskers hit .292 but only needed seven kills to win because of their defense.
“Credit to the teams from Nebraska that got to participate in this; it’ll be something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives,” Cook said. “Our players, it’s just been a roller coaster day for them with all the things we’ve been doing and the interviews and the pep rally and trying to prepare for a match. I thought they did a really nice job of managing the event and the moments and the scope of this whole thing.”
In the first match, Wayne State swept Kearney 25-17, 25-17, 15-12 despite falling into a 7-1 hole out of the gates. The Wildcats, ranked fourth in Division II, settled in after the rough start and controlled the rest of the match as Pierce native Maggie Brahmer led the way with eight kills on .368 hitting and five blocks. The Wildcats recorded 12 blocks overall and held the Lopers to .046 hitting.
Not only did Volleyball Day in Nebraska break a world record (as well as the United States and NCAA records) for a women’s sporting event, it also broke the attendance record for a football game at Memorial Stadium of 91,585, set against Miami in 2014.
“I’ve never seen the crowd at Memorial Stadium as fired up as they were tonight for the entire event, and I hope we set a new standard tonight with our fans, what they can do and the energy they can bring,” Cook said. “The energy down there was unbelievable.”