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‘Volleyball Day in Nebraska’ Comes as Celebration for Visiting Schools Involved

February 26, 2023

John Cook and Scott Kneifl have known each other for years. The Nebraska administration floated the idea of volleyball matches in Memorial Stadium to Cook, who thought it was crazy. Nebraska’s head volleyball coach then reached out to Kneifl, the head volleyball coach at Wayne State. Kneifl thought it was crazy. He told Wayne State Athletic Director Mike Powicki, who thought it was crazy.

The wild idea never died. As it came closer to fruition, crazy resembled a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“It’s a crazy idea but it’s a great idea,” Kneifl told Hail Varsity on Friday. “For our state, for the sport of volleyball in our state, it’s a great way to showcase it.”

This idea became a can’t-refuse offer for the Wayne State community, volleyball program and the players on the roster. Kneifl told his players of the plans on Friday morning while his team was in Lincoln playing beach volleyball.

“They had some pretty big eyes,” he chuckled. “Excited eyes, though. Things that you don’t think you’ll ever get to do, and that’s one of them. We’re just glad that coach Cook and Trev (Alberts) reached out to us and we’re being a part of this.”

Wayne State spent five weeks at No. 1 in the AVCA Division II poll last season. The Division II program just went 30-3 and won its first ever Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Championship with a Nebraskan-majority roster. The Wildcats are 390-139 overall and a perennial national tournament qualifier in Kneifl’s 16 seasons. They’ll open the Volleyball Day In Nebraska festivities at Memorial Stadium on August 30 with an exhibition match against Nebraska-Kearney. The Lopers are one of the winningest Division II volleyball programs, especially since Rick Squiers took over in 1999. Often overlooked by the Eastern Nebraska volleyball community, Squiers’ Lopers are a testament to Central Nebraska’s love of the sport. The six most-attended matches in Division II history were all played at the Health & Sports Center in Kearney.

While Kneifl and his Wildcats represent the northeast part of the state, Squiers and UNK bring representation for more western parts of Nebraska. Squires smiled when he said it’s easy for some to think “civilization stops after Lincoln.” He advocated for the rich volleyball traditions west of Lancaster County.

“I think that representation is a really nice part of the whole deal,” Squiers said. “And we’re proud of what we’ve done, at the same time really fortunate to be a part of this thing.”

He’d only been aware of the event plans for less than two months. Kneifl asked Squiers if he was interested. Administration jumped at the opportunity and the Lopers joined the event.

“The second we thought this was reality we realized this is a deal you don’t say no to,” Squiers said.

Nebraska Athletic Director Trev Alberts announced during the Volleyball Day in Nebraska press conference that revenue sharing was an important component to him. As a result, all three participating schools will receive $50,000. Alberts also mentioned this event takes place during the 100th anniversary season of Memorial Stadium and follows a year celebrating Title IX. The opportunity, and the money involved, drove athletic departments to work out the logistics.

Nebraska originally contacted Creighton about participating in the event. The Bluejays couldn’t re-engineer their schedule to fit the event. Even in Nebraska’s schedule, the special event is on a Wednesday and follows a home tournament the preceding weekend. The Wayne State and UNK exhibition follows regular-season matches for both those programs as well. Squiers said UNK will likely play a scrimmage in Ogallala and a weekend set before the Memorial Stadium match. Last season Wayne State played Kansas State in a mid-August exhibition before a two-day stretch of four matches in New York. They’ll likely try a similar scheduling approach. Omaha played in the Carolina Classic last season after hosting UNK for an exhibition. The Mavericks made their schedule fit the special event.

Cook called Omaha head coach Matt Buttermore in the summer and said Alberts was serious about the plan. Buttermore immediately asked how they planned to pull it off. He expressed safety concerns, even weather issues of potential wind and rain. Cook and Nebraska considered those concerns. They schemed for those issues. With that, Buttermore wanted to be involved.

“It’s amazing to be a part of and I’m excited for our student-athletes to do something like this that no one else is going to get to do,” Buttermore said. “They’ll remember forever.”

A few Husker volleyball players watched the press conference involving Cook, Alberts, President Ted Carter, Chancellor Ronnie Green and Gov. Jim Pillen. Two of them, Lindsay Krause (Omaha Skutt) and Bekka Allick (Waverly), are some of the native Nebraskans who will be involved in the historic event. Five players on the Huskers’ 2022 roster were native Nebraskans. That’s compared to eight on Omaha’s roster from 2022. UNK, with the largest roster among the four with 17 players, included 10 from Nebraska. Of Wayne State’s 12 roster spots last season, nine were native Nebraskans. Those returning Nebraskans will create something unique in August.

The Nebraska athletic department confirmed Nebraska’s match against Omaha will be televised on Big Ten Network and stream on the Fox Sports app. Radio, of course, will stream on the Huskers Sports Network affiliates. Streaming and possible television details on the Kearney and Wayne State exhibition are yet to be determined. This shines a spotlight that surpasses Nebraska and includes all volleyball fandom onto Memorial Stadium August 30. While the idea was born to regain the NCAA attendance record at the end of the second set between Nebraska and Omaha, Volleyball Day In Nebraska is bigger than that.

“Nebraska’s just been ahead of the curve, not in just women’s athletics and girls sports, but way ahead of the curve in volleyball,” Squiers, an Iowa native, said. “They’ve established a culture that goes border to border from the very get-go, all the way back to Coach (Terry) Pettit.

“It’s just different. We’ve played just about every place you can play and played against a lot of good teams in different environments and things like that. But there is still nothing like volleyball in Nebraska.”

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