A three-time All-American and Big 12 Conference player of the year at powerhouse Nebraska, Jordan Larson-Burbach figured she’d seen about everything there was to see in volleyball.
And then she started playing at the international level.
“Coming out of college I thought, ‘I’m pretty good, I guess,’ ” she said. “But once you’re out there — it’s a lot faster. The ball’s being hit and you’re like, ‘Whoa.’ ”
Now Larson-Burbach, from Hooper, Neb., is one of the veterans for Team USA as it prepares to settle in for its weeklong stay at the Ralston Arena for the NORCECA Women’s Continental Championship.
Members of the team are excited to bring the sport to the state where some of its most passionate fans reside. While they’ll appreciate the game, Larson-Burbach said, it’ll be a little different from what they might expect.
“They’ll obviously love it, but it’ll be kind of a shock for them in the beginning,” she said. “It’ll be a good crowd, and Nebraska fans love volleyball.”
Nine countries from North America, Central America and the Caribbean (NORCECA) are represented in the tournament, with the winner advancing to the FIVB Grand Champions Cup in November. This tournament isn’t a direct steppingstone to qualification for the 2016 Olympics, but it is a chance for countries to start developing in that process.
“It’s a good event for the city,” said Harold Cliff, president of the Omaha Sports Commission. “When you get that kind of exposure it’s beneficial, plus volleyball is so popular in Nebraska. It’s going to be a good opportunity for people to see the next level up in terms of the quality of play.”
The second-ranked United States is in the same pool with No. 25 Mexico and No. 15 Cuba and plays matches at 8 p.m. Monday against Mexico and at 8 p.m. Wednesday against Cuba. Quarterfinals are Thursday, semifinals Friday and the championship is Saturday.
The rest of the field includes the eighth-ranked Dominican Republic, No. 20 Puerto Rico, No. 23 Canada, No. 26 Costa Rica, No. 33 Trinidad & Tobago, and longshot St. Lucia.
There are three matches each night, with scheduled starting times at 4, 6 and 8.
Playing an international match with a homecourt advantage is a rarity for the U.S. team.
“Nebraska loves volleyball ... and it just so happens that we do, too,” U.S. coach Karch Kiraly said. “So this is a great fit. It’s not often that the United States, one of the best teams in the world, gets to host a competition on U.S. soil.
“We just had one in Southern California earlier this year, and before those a lot of our players were being asked what it was like to play in the U.S. and they said, ‘We don’t know.’ They’d never done it before.
“So we’re excited not only about competing on U.S. soil but also in one of the great hotbeds and support areas for volleyball. It’s fantastic.”
Larson-Burbach and another former Nebraska player, Kayla Banwarth of Dubuque, Iowa, can tell their teammates what playing in Nebraska is like. A few of them already know from playing college matches in Lincoln or Omaha.
Instead of watching matches halfway around the world on computer screens, many of the players’ families have come to Omaha for the tournament, taking advantage of the relatively easy access to the country’s midsection.
“It also brings its own challenges,” Larson-Burbach said. “We’re not used to playing in front of family and friends. How’s that going to be? Are we going to be able to handle having time with family and time to play? It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s going to be really, really fun to be a part of it.”
Cliff said ticket sales have been, “reasonable, but it’s certainly not sold out. We’ve been told that a (large) walk-up crowd is expected and we hope that happens.”
Other international volleyball events are a possibility that Cliff said the commission would consider.
“Part of the rationale of having this event here is to see how well it’s received and how the community responds to it,” he said. “There are other large, significant events we could look at with the national team. We’ll evaluate that after this series.”