Though she grew up in Lincoln, Bekka Allick didn’t attend any Nebraska football games as a kid. Instead, she got a taste of the game-day experience from afar.
Allick’s stepfather, Bill Ziegelbein, played football at Nebraska (1987-91) and had a tailgate spot in the lot by the Hawks Championship Center. Allick would spend game days in the lot with her family, hearing the stadium erupt every time the Huskers scored.
The sophomore middle blocker finally got a chance to attend a game at Memorial Stadium with her mom, Colleen, a couple of years ago, and now she’ll play in one too as the fourth-ranked Huskers are set to take on Omaha Wednesday in front of an expected crowd of 90,000-plus as part of Volleyball Day in Nebraska at Memorial Stadium. The thought fills Allick with both excitement and anxiety.
“It’s hard to grasp 94,000 people,” Allick said Tuesday. “I went to that game with my mom and just seeing all those people standing and cheering and getting into it, and the fact that they’re going to be doing it for us is crazy. Just to be seen by that many people at one time, all eyes on you. I don’t know, I’ll be filling up waters and people are going to be staring, and it’s just weird to think about. So yeah, anxiety is definitely one of them, because you want to look good. I mean, who wants to look bad in front of 90,000 people?
“But the biggest thing is we just don’t want to disappoint. UNO is a respectful competitor and so we want to give them our best shot as well. But the other thing is we don’t want to take one moment for granted because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Allick said she felt like a kid on Christmas after seeing the court laid out on the Memorial Stadium field.
Unlike Allick, Florida transfer Merritt Beason will be experiencing the Memorial Stadium atmosphere for the first time on Wednesday.
“I lucked out coming at this time,” Beason said. “I think everything happens for a reason and I truly believe that, but it is such an honor to be a part of it. I think this team as a whole is super grateful for the opportunity that we do have and I think it just speaks a lot about Nebraska as a whole, the state and our athletic program and the volleyball program here and how much support that we do have.”
Beason, an Alabama native, said her parents, grandparents, uncles and cousins are making the trip for the match, which will be the first time they see her play in person in a Husker uniform. Her advice to fans is simple: stay hydrated, have fun and take in the moment.
Cook said that people have been talking about the event everywhere he’s gone in town lately. When he first saw the court on the field, he had to measure it out himself to make sure it was regulation size because it looked so small situated in Memorial Stadium.
“Last night, I started feeling like ‘OK, this is really going to happen,’” Cook said. “But to see that place packed, there’s no way to prepare for it, and then all the hype, the Tunnel Walk, there’s a lot going on. This is going to be a great challenge for our players to stay focused on playing volleyball.”
The Huskers are using a two-hour practice Tuesday night to get ready for the outdoor match and work out all the logistics, Cook said. His biggest concerns are depth perception and wind, though he said the forecast for the latter looks promising. Nebraska tested out the court in the humidity last week when the temperatures were in the 100s as well and it held up well.
“We’re going to do a practice Tunnel Walk,” Cook said. “We’re just going to try to front-load them on everything that’s going to happen and then get used to playing outside, and like I said, the depth perception, that’s going to be really different for them.”
Though the primary goal is to shatter the attendance record for a college volleyball match (18,755), Volleyball Day in Nebraska could also challenge both the United States (90,185) and the international (91,648) records for attendance at a women’s sporting event.
“If you think about where women’s sports started, and then what’s going to happen tomorrow night, this is a celebration for all that and for all the women that first started getting a chance to play sports,” Cook said. “But there are a lot of women that didn’t ever get a chance, and to see this happen, I keep flashing back to when the soccer team played in the Rose Bowl, the USA soccer team, and I can still vividly remember that whole scene, the whole match. I think it was Brandi [Chastain], the celebration. That was a big moment for women’s sports and it really shot soccer up, and this is another great chance for that to happen for the sport of volleyball.”
The Huskers will welcome numerous former players back to Lincoln to attend the match and take part in the celebration, and Allick said she’s excited to share the moment with them.
“The fact that they’re all coming to not only just celebrate us but obviously themselves, because they are the reason that this program is such a big deal,” Allick said. “They went and they paved the way, and our goal is just not only to fill their shoes but to add more hardware onto our shelves. It’s about a legacy; this program isn’t a joke. We live it, it’s a sisterhood and once a part of this program, you’re always a part of this program. You wear this N with pride, and I’m just really grateful. It’s super cool; it’s a bunch of legends in the house all for one night and I think it’s really sick.”
Several youth teams are also taking advantage of the increased seating capacity to attend the match, giving many young girls who don’t get to attend matches in the sold-out Devaney Center an opportunity to see the Huskers play in person.
“That’s what we do it for, ultimately, at the end of the day,” Beason said. “I know most people on our team play because someone inspired them, and so whoever it was for that person on our team, we get to be that for young girls now. I think it’s so cool for us and I think that’s what drives a lot of people on our team is they want to do it for the person after us. I think it’s super cool for us to be able to obviously be in this environment, but for so many young girls to be able to be here and to share the experience with us. Bob’s obviously very hard to get into, so I’m glad that lots of young girls are able to come and watch a match and be a part of something crazy that’s about to happen.”
First serve for Nebraska and Omaha is set for 7 p.m. CT. The Mavericks dropped a pair of matches to Texas A&M and Kansas during the first weekend and their roster features eight Nebraska natives led by outside hitters Kali Jurgensmeier (Wahoo Neumann) and Shayla McCormick (Omaha Skutt) and middle blocker McKenna Ruch (Millard North).
Prior to the Huskers’ match, in-state Division-II schools Wayne State and UNK will face off an in exhibition match scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. The event also features a concert by Scotty McCreery starting 15 minutes after the conclusion of the second match.
Allick said the Huskers will have spots on the court for the concert following, which she’s excited about as a country music fan.
“It’s just going to be a huge celebration,” Allick said.