Spring match tradition connects Nebraska volleyball program with the rest of the state

April 15, 2019 GMT

Lindsay Peterson has a long list of responsibilities as the unofficial chief of staff for the Nebraska volleyball program.

She manages team travel, helps with hiring staff, plans an international trip every four years and is the liaison between the volleyball program and several areas of the Athletic Department.

And, in one of the more enjoyable parts of her job, once a year she gets to call someone in a smaller city in Nebraska and let them know that the Huskers are bringing their five-time national champion volleyball program to their town.

“It’s rewarding to say, ‘Hey, guess what, we’re going to be coming,’” said Peterson, whose official job title is director of operations.

This has become a mostly annual tradition in the spring for the program, when the Huskers hit the road and share their volleyball team with the state.

Grand Island, Norfolk, Wayne, Ogallala and Kearney are places the Huskers have played over the past nine years. Before that, the Huskers went to Scottsbluff, when Jordan Wilberger was on the team.

And this year it’s McCook, about 3½ hours from Lincoln in the southwest part of the state, where the Huskers will play a match next Saturday against Colorado State.

Nebraska has been playing spring matches on the road for a while, but it’s really grown in the past 10 years, with all the tickets quickly being sold. Now towns are lining up hoping to be where the Huskers go next.

McCook, in part, won out this year with persistence. It started during the season one year with an email from a fan in McCook asking if the Huskers would come there. Peterson replied with a thank-you, but said they wouldn’t start working on that until January.

“And so on January 1st, I got about 50 emails from people from McCook,” Peterson said. “And it was just like the president of the bank, somebody that worked in the grocery store saying, ‘We’d love to have you, we’ll take great care of you, you have a lot of fans out here.’”

McCook was a good next stop because the team hadn’t been to that area of the state, and they have a newer arena at McCook Community College that can hold about 1,500 fans.

And there was definitely demand. Fans camped out for tickets beginning at 10 p.m. on a Friday, about 13 hours before tickets went on sale. Peterson even got an email from a fan who waited in line, but didn’t get tickets. The fan still thanked the team for coming, saying it was a fun community event that day. Talk about Nebraska nice.

Other towns trying to get the Huskers back, or for first the time, are Norfolk, Columbus and North Platte.

Once a city is chosen, the planning really begins. They have to find an opponent and get hotel rooms. They want ball boys and girls for the match, and music to add to the atmosphere.

A Taraflex court, just like the one used in Lincoln, is being shipped to McCook. It was a court that was in Rio de Janeiro for the last Olympics, but now gets used at big club tournaments. Nebraska will send its facility staff out Thursday to set up the court.

“Part of it is if we’re going to go out there and charge for people to watch, (coach John Cook) wants it to be a big event,” Peterson said. “He wants it to be as close as it would be in Lincoln as possible.”

Playing spring matches in the state picked up after the NCAA made rules that limit how far you can travel and how much school you can miss for spring matches. In the past, Nebraska would travel to Florida, Hawaii and Minnesota to train and play during the spring.

In Ogallala and Kearney, because so many fans had been turned away for tickets, they added an open practice and autograph session on Friday night. They aren’t doing that this year because the team can’t leave until after class on Friday afternoon.

Some events like this see waning interest after a few years, but the Huskers’ spring tradition doesn’t show signs of slowing down.

“The tradition of Nebraska volleyball has withheld over this time period, and because we’re on TV so much, I think that’s given exposure to all parts of the state to feel like they’re a part of it, even if they’re not here,” Peterson said. “So the opportunity to see it in person is exciting for them, and for these communities to say they brought in Nebraska, the national champion, to play a match, is a big deal.”