Hi friends, I hope you’ll forgive a brief intrusion here from your friendly neighborhood College League Manager.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’m a volleyball expert. I’m not. My familiarity with the game, prior to this evening, extends as far as any kid who grew up Mormon...I played it on weeknights on lousy carpeted gyms when nobody remembered to plan an actual activity. So that’s to say that I can explain the general rules, but if you asked me to break down what would be an above average attacking percentage, I’d have to excuse myself to quickly Google something.
But that was enough for me to really enjoy myself at the Devaney Center, and really appreciate what you’ve built.
I realize I’m not telling y’all anything you don’t already know, but hear me out for a second real quick anyway. I saw your Cornhuskers beat a well regarded Michigan State squad, one undefeated in Big Ten play, with over 8,400 other fans. There were fans in this arena with standing room only tickets. Lots of them!
I am not exaggerating when I say the arena was louder than any of the Ohio State men’s basketball games I attended as an undergraduate, even if a good 4,000 more people may have showed up in Columbus from time to time. To create an environment like that, for a non-football or basketball sport, with the right match of arena, is impressive.
And the product itself, even for a layman like me, is still exciting. I can appreciate the mental toughness it would take to have to immediately forget your last play, be it a success or failure, given that each point may only last ten seconds or so. I can appreciate the precision and attention to detail in altering the course of the ball by the slightest amounts to try and find space between swarming arms in a defense. And I can appreciate just how dang cool it is to see athletes just smack the hell of the ball, sprint four feet out of bounds to keep it in play, and then scream in joy like teenagers after they score, because hey, all of that was fun.
As big time college athletics can feel increasingly encroached by the sanitization of professionalism, it’s enjoyable to see players still show legitimate excitement after pulling off a difficult move. They should! Burying a volleyball in front of 8,000 screaming fans is an achievement worthy of more than a stoic fist pump.
I’ve been around enough, and written about college athletics enough, to know that building this kind of culture, this kind of environment and atmosphere, is unusual. I recognize that part of this is likely due to the fact that there isn’t a ton else in Nebraska for Cornhusker athletics to compete with, but there are plenty of other schools in rural areas that would be unable to build an atmosphere like I saw tonight.
That speaks to a well coached team, a program that cares about fan experience, an understanding and appreciation of the sport from a fanbase, and some good fortune.
I’m not going to say I’m now a college volleyball fan for life, or that this is a blueprint for the path of the rest of college athletics or anything. Let’s not read more into this than what it is.
But what it is, in my humble opinion, is very cool, and something Nebraska fans should be proud of. And if they’re in the area, it’d be worth their time to pay their volleyball team a visit. I don’t think they’ll regret it.
Unlike the Runza sandwich I ate immediately after the game. Maybe not EVERY Nebraska experience is a good one.