Sitting in the stands at a Nebraska volleyball spring match three years ago in Ogallala, Bob Elder asked a simple question.
Why not McCook?
Soon after, Elder, the owner of Sports Shoppe in McCook, began his campaign to bring the Huskers to his hometown by emailing Lindsay Peterson, Nebraska’s director of operations. However, he realized his efforts would be more effective with more voices, so he enlisted the help of former Husker Christina Houghtelling (who grew up in nearby Cambridge), area volleyball coaches and dozens of other area residents.
The work paid off as the Huskers will play their only spring match this year at McCook Community College’s Graff Events Center against Colorado State Saturday at 1 p.m.
Elder said the event is the biggest thing to come to McCook since it hosted the Continental Amateur Baseball Association World Series from 1987-93.
“It’s just electric here,” he said. “People can’t wait.”
After the match became official, the event became the hottest ticket in town. People camped out for more than 13 hours before tickets went on sale on March 16. It took just 55 minutes for the 1,500-seat arena to sell out, and many more fans were turned away. One pair of tickets eventually went up for auction at a fundraising gala and sold for $1,400.
“It was incredible,” MCC events coordinator Jennifer Morgan said about the response. “As soon as it was announced, people were texting me all night long, including people I haven’t heard from in awhile.”
All the tickets are general admission, which means Morgan expects another line Saturday morning. She said the line won’t be as long because the arena doesn’t have a bad seat and many have plans to tailgate before the match.
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MCC volleyball coach Hayley Kobza said she could have been part of 45 volunteers for the event, but she just wanted to be a spectator. She said she won’t be getting any special treatment and will be in the line hoping for a good seat.
“I’d hate to have a back-row seat in my own gym,” she said.
On the court, Nebraska returns most of its national runner-up roster but has to replace outside hitter Mikaela Foecke and libero Kenzie Maloney, both All-Americans. To help fill that void, the Huskers have focused on integrating two early enrollees — outside hitter Madi Kubik and defensive specialist Kenzie Knuckles.
After having to cancel last year’s spring match because the Huskers didn’t have enough players to field a complete roster, NU coach John Cook has been pleased with the effort the past four weeks. The position battles have been competitive with several spots still up for grabs.
Cook said the Huskers have been committed to working hard every day in practice and he hasn’t had to motivate them much.
“That’s three points behind Stanford in the fifth game,” Cook said. “These older players are motivated. When you get that close and lose it, there is a deep motivation that comes with that.”
Cook said he will be interested to see if all the details the team has worked on translate to the match. While the outcome of the match isn’t his top priority, Cook said he is excited to share the program with a new part of the state.
“When you go to these towns, our players are like rock stars,” he said. “They make you feel really cool. The crowd will be amped up. It will be a fun time.”