Volleyball Day in Nebraska brings historic crowd to Memorial Stadium

Aug. 30, 2023, 10:01 p.m. ·

Two women cheer on Nebraska Volleyball in their black Husker shirts
Fans were amped up and passionate about prior to the start of Nebraska vs. Omaha at Volleyball Day in Nebraska. (Photo by Aaron Bonderson, Nebraska Public Media)

Ally Batenhorst knew that August 30, 2023 would be historic.

“It's just unreal that we get the opportunity to be a part of something like this and be a part of history—and make history—and just play in front of so many people that just love the game,” said the junior outside hitter for the Nebraska volleyball team.

The Huskers, along with the University of Nebraska-Omaha, the University of Nebraska-Kearney and Wayne State College, all participated in Volleyball Day in Nebraska on Wednesday night - an event that broke the world attendance record for a women's sporting event.

A total of 92,003 people were inside Memorial Stadium to experience the Huskers defeat UNO in straight sets. Wayne State defeated UNK by the same score to tip off the event around 4:30 p.m.

The world record previously was set by a Champions League Soccer match between Barcelona and Wolfsburg last spring. A match that drew 91,648 fans.

During the postgame press conference, Husker freshman Andi Jackson talked about what it meant to be inside the stadium.

“It’s just incredible. I can’t describe just how grateful I am to be a part of it and be a part of Husker nation,” Jackson said.

Jackson added it was a tough balance between celebrating the record and finishing the match. But once the Huskers scored the final point, it was time to enjoy making history.

“After we were locked in for three sets—we had played our game—all the emotions came out and we got to have our dance party.”

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Fans cheer on their friend who plays for Wayne State, Laney Kathol, as she walks off the stage during the first-ever Volleyball Day in Nebraska. (Photo by Aaron Bonderson, Nebraska Public Media)

Packing large crowds into Memorial Stadium isn’t new. The University of Nebraska–Lincoln football team has sold out tickets each year since 1962.

But it wasn't a football game that had people in Lincoln, and across the state, buzzing Wednesday night. Filling a football stadium for women’s volleyball hadn’t been done before, and the fans acted accordingly. Especially since this was also the first athletics event in Memorial Stadium to sell alcohol.

Oh, and country music artist Scotty McCreery performed after the matches… because why not?

Morgan Gardner, currently a junior at Southeast Community College, has played volleyball since she was in the fourth grade. She’s also a longtime Husker fan.

“I've had the opportunity to watch them (including) some of the final fours and championships that I've traveled to watch them play,” Gardner said. “But this is just a different environment. There's so many more people.”

Gardner said Volleyball Day in Nebraska proves what women’s sports can do.

“It just shows all the support that we can get, and all the love and warmth that we can have if we all just come together,” Gardner said.

Read previous Volleyball Day coverage by Nebraska Public Media News

Volleyball Day in Nebraska looks to set records — and set the record straight on women’s sports

The event was Connie Olson’s first Husker volleyball match.

“My daughter is a huge volleyball fan, and she loves everything about it. This is a historical event. We had to be here,” Olson said.

And not to mention, there were also additional records broken on Wednesday night.

Last season, Wisconsin swiped the Huskers’ record for most people at a regular season college volleyball match. The Badgers hosted a match inside its basketball arena, drawing 16,833 fans last September.

A goal of Volleyball Day in Nebraska was to take that record back, as UNL Athletic Director, Trev Alberts, tweeted this spring after tickets went on sale.

“The attendance record for volleyball belongs in the state of Nebraska,” he wrote.

It blew that record out of the water.

The United States record for attendance at a women’s sporting event was also broken. Previously that was held by the 1999 World Cup final between the U.S. and China. There were 90,185 people at that match.

Jane McManus is a longtime sports reporter who grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska. Now, she’s the Director of the brand-new Center for Sports Media at Seton Hall University.

McManus said every college should be brainstorming ways to emulate what took place in Lincoln.

“We're at a place now, culturally, where we're re-evaluating how much we value women's sports and I think, you know, seeing things like this — it's ‘if you build it, they will come,’” McManus said.

McManus said many schools, like Nebraska, flood resources to football and make a lot of money doing so. But, colleges can no longer ignore the fan interest toward women’s sports.

“Those are still valuable markets that can be developed and monetized. But also (it can be) used for the same sorts of things that Nebraska football is used for, which is: building community, bringing people together, having a point of pride for the college, sparking recruitment,” McManus said.

Since Title IX passed more than 50 years ago, McManus said investment and interest in women’s sports has fluctuated. Now, she said the popularity of women’s sports is on a more sustainable trajectory.

“I think we're in a moment of tremendous momentum around women's sports,” McManus said.

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Lexi Rodriguez of UNL poses for a photo with a fan before her team's match with UNO at Volleyball Day in Nebraska (Photo by Aaron Bonderson, Nebraska Public Media)

Husker junior, Lexi Rodriguez, said it’s the student-athletes that played before that brought Nebraska volleyball to this point.

“There were girls who played here a long time ago that kind of built the foundation for where we are now,” Rodriguez said. “And, if it wasn't for them, like dedication to the sport, dedication to the state of Nebraska, like, I don't think we'd have opportunities like this.”

She called Volleyball Day in Nebraska a once in a lifetime opportunity. But if popularity around the sport continues to grow, more opportunities might be ahead.