A Nebraska Volleyball Match Just Broke a World Record – What Made the Event so Moving?

by | Sep 4, 2023 | Current Events, Sports

On August 30th, as the sun began to set over Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska, a peculiar site occupied what usually houses the field for the University of Nebraska Football team. In place of the field sat a sea of fans in red and black shirts and, surprisingly, a volleyball court.

With the fireworks and 92,000 Cornhusker fans donned in candy cane striped overalls and red construction hats screaming as their team took the court, the display resembled something closer to a national football championship than a preseason volleyball match. 

Yet amidst the craziness, one couldn’t help but notice a particular group of fans in the crowd: young girls, with their cheeks bearing bright red temporary tattoos with the Nebraska “N,” eagerly leaning over the railings lining the tunnel to the court.

Speaking to the press, Lexi Rodriguez, the junior starting libero (defensive specialist) for the Nebraska women’s volleyball team, captured the true grandeur and beauty of what had occurred in Memorial Stadium that night. “For little girls to get to see a woman’s sport being played on this big of a stage and having so many people invest in it, I think, is huge.” 

That day, the University of Nebraska celebrated “Volleyball Day,” hosting two games to celebrate the impact of the sport in the state of Nebraska. However, the day became a celebration of not just volleyball but all women’s sports. With more than 92,000 people in attendance, the Nebraska Women’s Volleyball team broke the world record for attendance at a women’s sporting event, ever.

With the final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup finishing two weeks ago (hosting a crowd of over 75,000 in the final match), August proved to be an important month for women’s sports. But beyond setting a world record, what made Volleyball Day in Nebraska this past week so special? What did it represent?

Perhaps the best way to realize the full impact of the day is to consider Rodriguez’s comment on the investment that went into making Wednesday’s event as grand as it was. To better understand this, some clarity on exactly who the Nebraska Women’s Volleyball team is might be necessary.

Since the program’s founding in 1975, the Cornhuskers have won 5 NCAA Championships and 34 Big Ten conference championships. Along with their awards, Nebraska has made 47 NCAA tournament appearances in the program’s 48-year history (having qualified for 40 consecutive years since 1982).

With preseason Power 10 rankings listing the team at #5, Nebraska currently stands as #4 in the nation. Of the 9 largest crowds in NCAA volleyball history, Nebraska has competed in 8. Of the 14 largest NCAA volleyball crowds during the regular season, Nebraska has competed in 13. As of now, the Cornhuskers have sold out 303 consecutive regular season matches.

Was it really that surprising that Nebraska could attract a crowd of over 92,000 people? I wasn’t surprised at all. 

Often, when we discuss women’s sports, even though we may defend their skill and importance, it is regularly done so in comparison to men’s sports and their viewership. The NBA and its prowess are invoked anytime the WNBA is brought into discussion. The US Women’s National Soccer Team is regularly compared to our men’s team despite having won 4 World Cups.

This was not the case on Volleyball Day in Nebraska. While Memorial Stadium may regularly be home to Nebraska Football, there was no comparison to the football program or their attendance. There was no need to. The Women’s Volleyball team sold out the stadium only 3 days after the announcement of the event. 

Was there an element of spectacle at work? Perhaps. Watching a volleyball match in a football stadium is a unique experience. Nevertheless, I find it hard to believe that this was the true motivation behind the over 92,000 people in attendance. 

Nebraska drew a crowd on their own merit. People paid and traveled to watch one of the nation’s strongest and most decorated volleyball programs perform. And the Cornhuskers lived up to their reputation, handedly sweeping their local rivals from Omaha in 3 straight sets (25-14, 25-14, 25-13).

Maybe it seems dramatic to make such a big deal out of a sporting event. Perhaps it feels trite to celebrate a volleyball team so much. But is it, though? I can’t help but think back to the words from Lexi Rodriguez and the image of the young girls leaning over the railing, desperately reaching for a high-five.

Watching the excitement that took place brought me back to an experience I had earlier this Spring. During my time at Saint Louis University, I served as chaplain to the Women’s Volleyball team there. Back in April, our team was given a similar opportunity to Nebraska (though on a much smaller scale). For our final scrimmage of the Spring off-season, rather than playing in the smaller pavilion where our matches normally took place, we were given the chance to play in the university’s larger basketball facility, Chaifetz Arena.

We played Mizzou, drawing a sizable crowd, compared to our regular season matches, to see a high-level competition between two well-known, local volleyball programs. While the match was exciting to watch, the more subtle things that took place amidst this bigger stage have remained with me for months after the event in Saint Louis.

Along with playing in the arena, the players on the SLU Women’s Volleyball team were given the opportunity to meet fans and sign autographs after the match, an experience typically reserved for the Men’s Basketball program.

I then proceeded to watch as groups of young girls, wearing the jerseys of their local volleyball clubs, nervously approached our players and collected their autographs. In this moment, a vital affirmation was occurring on two fronts. A younger generation of athletes was given the chance to see that high-level competition in their sport was not just possible; it was alive and real.

As for my players, beyond the fun and excitement of playing in such an electric environment, the experience was fulfilling and dignifying. Their names, numbers, and performances had become an image of athletic excellence that would remain with these young girls, motivating and inspiring them. It was an experience that, while not breaking any world record, captured a similar profundity of what occurred in Nebraska.

After winning the match, Nebraska head coach John Cook admitted to the press that he had cried “at least five times” throughout the day. I can’t help but admit that watching the match also made me emotional. As a former volleyball player, I can’t attribute this feeling to simply being excited to see my favorite sport get some attention. I think having ministered to women athletes, I was more so moved to catch a glimpse of what their future in this sport hopefully looks like.

Photo courtesy of Emma Duman


Noah Banasiewicz, SJ

nbanasiewiczsj@thejesuitpost.org   /   All posts by Noah