by Ken Hambleton
Congratulations. You have landed in Lincoln and are now in the center of the state that caused the national volleyball explosion.
Nebraska has the most successful, most recognized and most girls playing volleyball at and elite level, per capita, of any state in the Union.
The University of Nebraska is the focal point of the state that has produced five NCAA national champions, two Olympic gold medal winners, and more NCAA Divisioin I volleyball players, per capita than anybody else.
Currently, Husker coach John Cook, who has a ridiculous winning record of 284 wins in 303 matches and four NCAA titles, is at the top of the volleyball world.
Nebraska has the highest attendance for home games in the country for the last two decades – packing in more than 8,000 fans for each home match at the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
The sports center was remodeled in 2013 to provide the electric atmosphere that drives the Huskers every season. Previously, under Hall of Fame Coach Terry Pettit,
Nebraska played in the rowdy and deafening noise of
the old NU Coliseum.
Nebraska volleyball, under Pettit was one of the first beneficiaries of Title IX legislation and the Huskers were given the funds to hand out 12 scholarships. From 1976 through 1999 Pettit recruited throughout the state and region to pick up future All-Americans Cathy Noth, Lori Endicott, Allison Weston, Karen Dahlgren, Janet Kruse and others to build a 694-148 record, 21 Big Eight and Big 12 titles, 19 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.
Along the way, the University of Nebraska at Kearney, a Div. II school, became a national powerhouse at its level and state colleges such as Hastings, Midland and Wayne State also marked the highest level of volleyball excellence.
Nebraska high schools also made the climb. Nebraska high school girls were playing on some of the top select teams in the country and the Husker state was churning out dozens of Div.I players every year.
Pettit won his first national title in 1995, then, after working as an assistant at Nebraska following a head coaching stint at Wisconsin, John Cook took over at Nebraska.
His team won its first of four National titles in 2000 behind the leadership of Jordan Larsen, who went on to lead the US to an Olympic gold medal in 2021.
Cook’s team churned out NBCAA titles in 2008, 2015 and 2017 and was runner-up two other times. Along the way Nebraska won 12 conference titles, reached the semifinals of the NCAA tournament 10 times and continued the string of NCAA tournament appearances that started in 1983.
Nebraska fans helped set attendance records for the NCAA tournament finals when held in Omaha.
Among the 62 All-Americans playing for Cook over the years were Nancy Metcalf, Kelsey Robinson (who also played on the gold medal team in 2021), Kayla Banworth, Sarah Pavan, Justin Wong Orantes, Greichaly Cepero, Melissa Elmer and Mikaela Focke.
Nebraska has 98 All-Americans, and 39 Academic All-Americans—both national leading numbers.
The influence spread to Creighton, an NCAA qualifier in recent years, and the teams at Louisville, Kentucky, Illinois and Mississippi, where former Husker assistant coaches are now leading their respective programs.
Pettit said in an interview two years ago, “People have that feeling about Nebraska volleyball. They know exactly what it is. They know what type of athlete is on the court. They know the style of play. They know the effort. They know the consistency. They know that she’s a good student. And they know that she’s a solid citizen when she goes on to her career after volleyball.”