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The entire south half of the Devaney Sports Center was filled with volleyball fans on Sunday — chanting, dancing and anxiously anticipating their home state heroes.

The Nebraska women's volleyball team won the NCAA national championship in Kansas City on Saturday night, defeating Florida in an intense match for the program's fifth title.

When the team returned to Lincoln on Sunday, the crowd cheered as they welcomed the women and head coach John Cook for a championship celebration.

The atmosphere was energetic and lighthearted, with cheerleaders and a pep band motivating the crowd.

For fans who have followed the team closely all year, watching them arrive home in national championship hats and carrying the NCAA trophy was a delight.

It was considered by many a rebuilding season for the Huskers, who came into the tournament as underdogs, seeded only fifth after sharing the Big Ten Conference title.

"It was surprising and I didn't expect it, but when they won everyone in the room started jumping up and down," said 13-year-old Livia Swanson, who welcomed home the team on Sunday with her parents and older sister. The Swanson girls watched last night's game on TV with friends, crossing their fingers for a win.

For those who have watched Husker volleyball for decades, it was especially rewarding.

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Longtime fan Dustyn Behm of Lincoln said he remembers listening to the team win their first national championship back in 1995 on the radio. When he watched the championship-clinching point on the big screen at Pinnacle Bank Arena Saturday night, he said it took him back.

"There really isn't a much better feeling," he said. "When that's your team and they're in this big game, it's a great sense of pride."

Marian Melcher also felt intense pride. Her granddaughter, Kelly Hunter, was a senior setter on the team and finished her career as one of the most decorated players in Nebraska's history, winning two national championships and earning co-MVP honors at this weekend's Final Four with teammate Mikaela Foecke.

Melcher was overcome with emotion watching Hunter on Saturday night at the Sprint Center.

"I can't even talk about it," she said. "It's absolutely awesome. I couldn't be prouder."

For Mike Pabian of Lincoln, whose niece played on the 1995 championship team, the win spoke to something greater — the importance of teamwork.

"They play so well together," Pabian said of this year's team. "They trust each other so much, and that's why they won. The coach is a great coach, too. They all do a lot for the college."

And the fanbase took on that mentality on Sunday as well, chanting the team's own phrase as they walked onto the court.

"With each other, for each other."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7223 or hmuslic@journalstar.com.

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