In 23 seasons as volleyball coach at Nebraska, Terry Pettit helped build the program to where it gained a large following and needed a place to hang championship banners.
He helped build the program to the point where 11 years after he retired from coaching, the athletic department made the decision to invest $20 million for a makeover of the Devaney Sports Center with the volleyball team in mind. The move from the NU Coliseum created what may become one of the best volleyball-specific venues in the world, giving the program more room to grow and a new recruiting advantage.
What Pettit formed as the foundation will come full circle Friday, when the program he put on the national map, and his daughter, who wanted to be a college setter, meet in the same impressive arena. The Huskers’ first official match at Devaney will be played against Villanova. Pettit’s daughter, Emma, is a sophomore setter for the Wildcats.
And thanks to a gift from Bill and Ruth Scott, the volleyball court at Devaney will be named the Terry Pettit Court. It will be dedicated before Friday’s match. There's a plaque recognizing the honor near the tunnel where the Huskers take the court.
NU coach John Cook added to the excitement for Pettit’s family and friends by inviting Villanova to play Nebraska.
“That made it very exciting,” Pettit said.
On numerous occasions, Cook has made the case that while Nebraska maintains an outstanding home-court advantage, opponents also can feed off the environment. Opposing players want to play a great match in front of what may be the largest crowd they’ll ever play in front of, and a crowd that really appreciates well-played volleyball.
Now Emma Pettit will get to experience playing a college match in Lincoln.
“I think it’s pretty special for us, because both Katherine (Pettit) and Emma in a lot of different ways were shaped by the women who played Nebraska volleyball,” Terry Pettit said. “Katherine, our oldest daughter, she was down there at practice, usually. We’d pick her up after school and she’d be shagging balls and hitting balls off the wall. Even Emma has been influenced by the success and discipline. I think it’s pretty special for her.”
Emma Pettit was born in Lincoln and attended Maxey Elementary School before her family moved to Fort Collins, Colo., when she was in fourth grade.
Katherine Pettit played volleyball at Colorado State, and one reason her dad retired from coaching in 1999 was so he could attend her matches.
Terry Pettit still lives in Fort Collins, where he’s a consultant for athletic departments, leads seminars on leadership and is an author.
Pettit won 21 conference titles, made six NCAA Tournament Final Four appearances and won the school’s first volleyball national title in 1995. Pettit coached 35 AVCA All-Americans, two AVCA national players of the year and three Olympians.
He built the program by conducting clinics across the state and by promoting the sport.
Moving from a 4,000-seat venue to a 7,900-seat venue was the next big step for the program, Pettit said.
“If Nebraska had not made a move and stayed in the Coliseum, it still would have been a good environment for the players, but you would have gone a couple of generations without people being able to see the sport, and that’s not healthy for the sport,” he said.
Pettit deserves a lot of credit for making volleyball a big deal in the state, says Cook, who was Pettit’s assistant for four seasons. Now, like coaches Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne, his name is an everyday part of the athletic department.
“I remember the first time when the Match Club paid to get Nebraska volleyball on NET and put it in every home in Nebraska,” Cook said. “The fact that a donor, who donated a significant amount of money to help this Devaney project, wants to have his (Pettit's) name on the court, and the fact that his daughter is the starting setter for Villanova, this lined up really well.”
* Villanova was 11-19 last season, and has reached the NCAA Tournament just once, in 1997.
* Friday’s first match of the two-day tournament pits Southern Mississippi and Georgia (3-0) at 4:30 p.m. Georgia’s coach is former Husker assistant Lizzy Stemke.