LINCOLN — As a young girl, Emma Pettit had about the best seats to Nebraska volleyball matches you could hope for, not that she stayed in them for very long.
It didn’t matter that her father, Terry, was the Huskers’ coach. Despite the bright lights and big crowds, it was only a matter of time before Emma’s mind began to wander, with her feet not far behind.
“I have really early memories of watching games at the Coliseum,” she said. “We always had seats in the center of the court. I was so young I couldn’t keep focused for more than a game, then I’d always run off and go do my own thing.”
Says Terry: “They’d run off under the bleachers, set up cups and pretend they were playing.”
Friday, Terry Pettit returns to the home court of the program he built, with a few differences both for he and his youngest daughter. Emma is the starting sophomore setter for Villanova, Nebraska’s opponent in the Huskers’ home opener Friday.
And instead of playing an imaginary match under the old Coliseum bleachers, she’ll be taking center court on a floor that now bears her father’s name. NU will dedicate the playing surface at the newly renovated Devaney Center as Terry Pettit Court in a prematch ceremony before the No. 13 Huskers (2-1) take on the Wildcats (1-2) at 7 p.m.
“The neatest thing about this for us as a family is knowing that Emma would be playing, because Nebraska volleyball has been so much a part of our family life,” Pettit said. “It’s always special when you get to see your kid play, but when you get to see your kid play in that environment, there’s nothing better.”
The court will be named after the legendary coach at the request of donors Bill and Ruth Scott, who made a sizable donation to the $20 million Devaney Center renovation project. Current Nebraska coach John Cook then worked to schedule Villanova for NU’s home opener so Emma and the rest of the Pettit family could be involved in the night.
With the pieces in place, an old colleague phoned Pettit to tell him about the plan.
“Coach (Tom) Osborne called me. I was playing in a golf tournament in Colorado just about this time last year,” Pettit said. “I was very surprised and pleased. He told me about the Scotts’ generous gift, and I’ll have the opportunity to meet with them before the match and personally thank them. It’s very nice, and I think a lot of that has to do with Coach Osborne and Coach (John) Cook bringing that about.”
The choice to name Nebraska’s floor after Pettit is a no-brainer. The Hall of Fame coach led Nebraska to 21 conference championships in his 23 seasons. Under Pettit, NU racked up 694 wins, six final four appearances and won the program’s first national championship in 1995.
And with that success came the following that spurred the program’s move from the historic NU Coliseum to a venue that will seat about twice as many fans. A crowd of more than 8,200 showed up to watch the team’s intrasquad scrimmage last month, an unheard of number for college volleyball.
Pettit supported the move to Devaney because he could see that, as packed as the Coliseum was, the game always needs new fans and new energy to grow. He was worried about Nebraska volleyball becoming too exclusive a ticket for students or young fans who would make up the next generation of supporters.
With his name on the court, Pettit’s legacy is now a tangible part of the Huskers’ new home. Friday’s ceremony will be a reminder to everyone, including his daughter, that what Pettit built persists and thrives long after the family moved away from Lincoln.
“Every kid thinks of their parents as just their parents, not that they had lives before them,” Emma Pettit said. “But I just think of him as my dad so it will be cool to see what he means to so many people.
“It’s really hard for me to imagine what a huge moment will be like until I experience it. I’m sure the atmosphere will be really amazing, super charged.”