Nebraska sets women’s sporting event record with outdoor volleyball game

Nebraska junior libero Lexi Rodriguez couldn’t help but smile as she, along with volleyball head coach John Cook and junior outside hitter Merritt Beason, led the Cornhuskers through the tunnel and onto the makeshift volleyball court set up at Memorial Stadium.

It was a historic night in Lincoln, Nebraska, as a women’s sporting event record of 92,003 fans packed the venue to watch the Cornhuskers beat the University of Nebraska Omaha in three straight sets (25-14, 25-14, 23-14).

The previous world record for a women’s sporting event was 91,648, which was set just last year when Barcelona battled Wolfsburg in a Champions League soccer match at Camp Nou Stadium in Spain.

The previous United States record was set back in 1999 when 90,185 fans packed the Rose Bowl for the Women’s World Cup Final between the US and China.

But unlike two the previous two record-setting events, Wednesday’s spectacle was the Cornhuskers’ season opener and not a major championship match or global event.

Fans watch Nebraska take on Omaha in a college volleyball match Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb.

It had been billed as Volleyball Day in Nebraska and included another match played earlier in the day between Nebraska-Kearney and Wayne State.

In-person classes were canceled on the Lincoln campus, and a post-match concert led by American Idol season 10 winner Scotty McCreery was also part of the festivities.

“I think it’s just a great statement about the growth of the sport. The excitement about it,” NCAA president Charlie Baker said in an interview before the game. “The popularity and the quality of the play. Anybody that hasn’t watched a volleyball game in the last few years, really should, because the athleticism, the teamwork, the games themselves are just unbelievable.

“I’m not surprised that they sold out this place in basically 48 hours.”

College volleyball has quickly grown in popularity over the years and is catching up to basketball as the most popular women’s sport, according to the Washington Post.

Nebraska is one of the NCAA’s premier programs, as the Cornhuskers have won five national titles and sold out 306 consecutive games.

Wednesday night’s match did not count toward the school’s sellout streak because the game was played outside its main facility, the Devaney Center.

The Nebraska Cornhuskers huddle before the game against the Omaha Mavericks at Memorial Stadium.
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The Big Ten has drawn some of women’s volleyball’s biggest crowds, with the national title game between Nebraska and Wisconsin in 2021 setting the previous record for the largest crowd at a women’s college volleyball match at 18,755.

Wisconsin had set the regular season record last year when the Badgers hosted 16,833 for a match against the University of Florida.

But all of that pales in comparison to Wednesday’s contest at Memorial Stadium, which at times seemed surreal.

A volleyball sign hangs in the stands before the game between the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Omaha Mavericks at Memorial Stadium.
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Players are silhouetted as sunlight hits the court during a college volleyball match between Nebraska-Kearney and Wayne State.

Nebraska Cornhuskers fans walk on Stadium Drive before the match against the Omaha Mavericks at Memorial Stadium.
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The Cornhuskers marched through the tunnel from the locker room to the field, and the 92,000-plus roared as the team entered the playing area while “Sirius” by the Allan Parsons Project boomed over the stadium’s speakers.

Three fighter jets and another military aircraft roared overhead before the start of the match, and the typically raucous Nebraska volleyball crowd took on a new life with the extra fans in the stands.

And Nebraska won decisively in a fitting end to a memorable night for the home crowd.

“This is unbelievable for women’s athletics,” an emotional Cook said on the broadcast after the match. “We’ve dreamed big here and tonight we really dreamed big.

“[Junior setter] Kennedy Orr wrote me a note today that said, ‘Coach, tonight the impossible will be possible.’ We did it.”

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