Would Nebraska volleyball consider playing a match at Pinnacle Bank Arena?
With the interest in women's sports at an all-time high, Nebraska is having to find ways to support that interest for fans.
Sunday marked a record-breaking day for women’s sports thanks to the Iowa women’s basketball team and Game 3 of the WNBA Finals.
First, Iowa’s exhibition matchup with DePaul — which took place inside Kinnick Stadium — set the all-time women’s basketball record with 55,646 people in attendance. As for the WNBA Finals, Game 3 between the New York Liberty and the Las Vegas Aces set a historic gate receipt record at 17,143, making it the highest attended WNBA game in history.
“I think they're having big crowds everywhere and I think it's just created this interest,” Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook said on Tuesday. “I just read the WNBA had their record crowd last night, so women's sports is on fire right now and I think the stadium match had a lot to do with it.
“And now you're seeing that spill over to a lot of volleyball matches and that's why everybody's breaking records.”
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Volleyball Day in Nebraska certainly showed what was possible for women's sports. An impressive 92,003 fans inside Memorial Stadium marked the largest crowd to witness a women’s sporting event in history.
Since then, a domino effect has fallen into place.
One week after Volleyball Day, for example, the University of Nebraska at Kearney Lopers broke the NCAA Division II regular-season attendance record with 4,003 fans in attendance. On Oct. 6, Michigan State set its own attendance record in East Lansing when Nebraska came to town. The Spartans had 8,789 fans on hand to cheer their team on in four sets against the Huskers.
“We're going to play in front of 9,000 in Michigan. Are you kidding me?” Cook said. “I mean, they usually play in this . . . it's an old swimming pool that they converted. It's an old cracker box gym that sometimes they'd fill it, most of the time they wouldn't. And here they are playing in front of 9,000? That was pretty, pretty impressive.
“Same with Michigan State. Michigan State tended to draw better. But Ohio State's been sold out, Indiana's sold out now several times. Volleyball's on fire right now. I think a lot of it's from the exposure from the stadium match, and then of course, Iowa women's basketball . . . I mean, who'd ever thought that?
“Women’s sports are really on the upswing.”
Nebraska women’s basketball coach Amy Williams would love to see similar support for her program. The Huskers set a program record in attendance for a women’s game at Nebraska when the team faced Iowa this past Feb. 18, with 13,595 people showing up for the “Pack PBA” game.
Because of the first go-around, Williams and her crew will attempt to pack Pinnacle Bank Arena once again on Jan. 7, 2024. This time, the Huskers will face off against Indiana.
“We’ve seen and know what Husker Nation is about, but I know that Husker Nation loves a challenge,” Williams said at Big Ten Media Days. “Any time that we try to challenge them to raise the bar, they find a way to show up for us, they find a way and so we’re looking forward to that.”
Nebraska fans highlighted that with Volleyball Day too, and Cook thinks that support will bleed over to other women’s sports at Nebraska. Of those 92,003 fans, Cook suspects a lot of them are basketball fans. Why not show up to support?
“And the fact how much fun they had (at Volleyball Day), it was a really fun experience and fun night,” Cook said. “The Big Ten Commissioner mentioned that he's never been at an event where everybody was having a great time . . . and so I think that's one of the things that's happening and will spill over to basketball and softball. I think softball is going to have trouble finding seats over there.”
The Nebraska softball team is considering options for how to handle the interest for the 2024 season at Bowlin Stadium. With Jordy Bahl’s return to Nebraska, interest is at an all-time high. By mid-June, for example, the Huskers had 2,124 requests to join the wait list for season tickets. The wait list prior to Bahl’s announcement was only 26, and there were 365 total season-ticket holders for softball in 2023.
“It's fun and these are great athletes that (fans) get to go watch,” Cook said. “I think there definitely will be a carry over.”
A lot has changed for Nebraska volleyball since that fateful day in August. More people stop Cook and the team for autographs and photos. Police are now sitting on the bench at some road games to keep the crowd back. Add in the celebrity of Jordan Larson as Nebraska’s new assistant coach and things get crazy for the Huskers quickly.
But Cook is embracing it. The interest in women’s sports is only growing, and that’s a good thing for all of the women’s sports at Nebraska.
It also means volleyball — like so many other programs at Nebraska right now — is considering what the future looks like. With more fans wanting access, it may make sense to move a volleyball match each season from the Devaney Sports Center to Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Cook prefers to play at Devaney for a number of reasons, but he understands he might have to be willing to play elsewhere every so often for the fans. With Devaney’s capacity sitting at approximately 8,300 fans to Pinnacle Bank Arena’s 15,500, moving even one match per season opens the doors for more fans to attend and celebrate volleyball at Nebraska.
“Do I want to do that? No,” Cook said. “But I think we have to consider it.”
So Nebraska will do just that and at least look at the option for future seasons.
The fans have spoken — both in Nebraska and beyond — and the interest in women’s sports is at an all-time high. It only makes sense to take advantage of that.
After all, as Cook said, women’s sports are on fire right now. It sure is fun, isn’t it?