This just in: Nebraska and Creighton will play again in volleyball. John Cook wants it. Kirsten Bernthal Booth wants it. You want it. The coaches say the series will likely return next year, and for all volleyball years after.
Call it the Skybox Series.
Volleyball has always touched nerves and pushed buttons around here, but now we're about to go where no libero has ever gone before.
Creighton and Nebraska both ranked in the preseason poll. Bluejays and Huskers both in the NCAA tournament. Both — yes, both — contending for Sweet 16s and Final Fours.
A fireplace in the locker room. That's Nebraska.
Hosting a conference tournament on your home court. That's Creighton this year.
Hosting a regional on your home court. That's Nebraska this year (the Huskers still have to get there). And maybe a Final Four at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Cook said NU is bidding on one.
A home-and-home series at Devaney Center and CenturyLink Center, where large crowds can pass the Grey Poupon in the skyboxes.
Last, but certainly not least: a revenue-producer in Lincoln.
NU volleyball has always been cutting edge, since Terry Pettit first taught Nebraska girls to dig the sport. But the potential for Husker volleyball to make money even blows Cook's introspective mind.
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A women's sport being self-sufficient? Cook said Hawaii volleyball is the only program nationally he's aware of that does that, and he added it's because Hawaii plays a ton of home matches each year.
“To say a women's sport at Nebraska is a revenue sport — it would be historic,” Cook said. “For years I would attend booster meetings or hear people say that the big reason volleyball is able to do all these things is because of football.
“One of my goals has always been to become a self-sufficient sport. We can make history. UConn basketball doesn't even make money. We have a chance to pay for our budget.”
The move to Devaney Center makes this possible. The volleyball arena will seat 8,000, with 2,000 on the floor, including a student section that should be larger than the one at NU Coliseum.
“I met a girl this summer who said she's going to be a freshman at Lincoln, and the first thing she said was that she won student volleyball tickets in a lottery,” Cook said. “Been here 13 years and never heard a kid say they got student tickets.”
The kid was lucky. Other Husker fans weren't. There were 5,500 new applications for volleyball season tickets at Devaney Center. There's a list of 1,400 who got rejected.
That demand, along with increased donor seating and the concept of volleyball skyboxes, should allow NU to meet its $1.2 budget and then some.
“We all know how important football is at Nebraska,” Cook said. “We want to do our part.”
The ladies will get their amenities and bling, too. The volleyball locker room at Devaney Center — built on the site of the former men's basketball locker room — is state-of-the-plush. But where the football and men's basketball locker rooms double as man caves, the women's locker room seems more fitting for the Husker volleyball profile.
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“There's a couch in the shape of a volleyball,” Cook said. “There's a fireplace in there, right next to tables and computers where you can study. There's a row of iPads in there for studying, too.”
Any iPods in the showers?
“No,” Cook said. “I nixed that. We don't need that. I want our girls to remember where they came from. Our slogan this year is, 'Honor the past, invent the future.' ”
The second part of that slogan works at Creighton, where Booth has steadily raised the roof on Jays volleyball. Her first 10 years as coach have been like climbing stairs: record crowds, record wins, NCAA bid, national coach of the year, national ranking.
“When I got here (2003), my national championship was to take the team to the NCAA tournament,” Booth said. “That was my dream. You achieve that and you make new goals.
“We want to be a Sweet 16 team, but I feel this program is prepared to go beyond that. Not necessarily this year.”
Booth looked like a logical choice to take Creighton volleyball to new heights. She grew up in Lincoln, was an all-state setter at Lincoln East and later a conference MVP at Division II Truman State. But this was not the path she had in mind.
“I was a tennis player,” she said. “Tennis is what I was groomed to play. I was going to go to Nebraska to play tennis. They didn't offer me a full scholarship. I ended up choosing volleyball.”
She certainly knew enough about Nebraska volleyball — having attended a handful of matches — to know that was a good model for her CU program. She thought one of her first hires should be a former Husker; Angie Oxley, a senior on NU's 2000 national title team, has been with Booth since Day 1.
They tapped the deep well of Nebraska high school talent. As Cook's machine regularly played for national glory, the Jays were working in the background. Literally. During one of NU's matches in the NCAA Final Four in Omaha, Creighton volleyball players served as ball girls.
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The Jays have taken good notes. Creighton is 0-12 against the Huskers in the regular season but broke through last April by winning a five-set exhibition match against NU in what was the last match at the Coliseum. It was a sign that the Jays are coming.
Now, can we get these two to play every year? They've taken the last two years off.
“We would like to play them, home-and-home,” Cook said. “It would be good for the state. We'll play at the Sokol or (CenturyLink).”
Cook said the sabbatical has come because the Big Ten plays a double round-robin schedule, and that took away the midweek dates that NU and CU used to save for each other. He said the Big Ten is going to volleyball divisional play when Maryland and Rutgers join in 2014, and that will free up some dates.
“Heck, yeah, we'll play 'em,” Booth said. “I'd like to do home and away. We have offered that we would play our home game at the CenturyLink and split the gate. That's a win-win for both programs.”
Win and win. Sounds like the future of volleyball around here.