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Volleyball fans after a Husker football game

Husker volleyball fans huddle under a tent at 10th and Q streets after a Husker football game on Sept. 29, watching the volleyball team win at Illinois

Would you look at this picture?

Is there anything more “Nebraska volleyball” than these folks huddled under a tent at 10th and Q streets after a Husker football game on Sept. 29, watching the volleyball team win at Illinois?

I was waiting for a ride home after the football game when I snapped the shot with my phone. Pardon the intrusion, whoever you are, and also, way to go. I was impressed.

It is a picture worth 1,000-plus victories, 34 conference titles and five national championships.

And now, 250 consecutive sellouts, the longest streak in the history of NCAA women’s sports.

Those Husker volleyball fans. Wow. More than 8,000 in the house every time. How do you explain it to those on the outside?

A friend and big-time fan, Linda Stubbendick, told me recently it’s simple. It’s easy to support such a “class act.”

“My family and friends watch UNL volleyball and enjoy seeing the development of a wonderful group of young women who year after year excel in volleyball and life. The past four years we have traveled to the NCAA final four and always are so proud of the Big Red volleyball team.

“They are a wonderful example of Nebraska’s best.”

All of this amazing support is being tested just a little this season, only because Terry Pettit and John Cook built such a mighty powerhouse. Losing is not part of the deal, so when NU goes 3-5 in a month like they did in October, you wonder if it will make tickets any easier to get. I am guessing not.

“The term that comes to mind is a religious phrase: ‘true believers,’” Pettit said. “But in some ways that has not been tested, because Nebraska volleyball has never had a mediocre season, and it is hard times that define fan loyalty.”

While October was a little rough, mediocrity is nowhere in sight. Despite a brutal schedule, NU still finished the month with a 16-6 overall record and a No. 8 national ranking, and then rallied to beat rival and No. 7 Penn State on Nov. 2. Hard to call it a down year at this point.

Cook describes the love affair like this:

“The (fans) are educated and passionate. They love their popcorn. They love the Huskers no matter what.”

Gotta have the popcorn. I am a fan.

Darlene Muffly is another friend who loves her Husker volleyball like crazy. She and her husband, Frank Gaines, put together this short essay, and it is spot on:

It’s the players. It’s the coaches. It’s the fans. It’s the facilities. It’s the excellence in the classroom and on the court.

Women’s collegiate athletics are easy to support because the young women are competing for the love of the game. We love seeing small-town Nebraska kids grow up and contribute to elite teams. The die-hard fans grew into sell-out crowds, urged the team to epic wins, perfected the synchronized Roof-Roof-Roof. We’ve developed friendships with our long-time seat mates.

The Coliseum was a special place to watch a game. It was loud and close, to the court and to each other. And Steve Johnsen excited the crowd with his unique and enthusiastic introductions and play calling. The choreography started here, first with the ball boys doing the YMCA during intermission. The substitutes have continued to perfect the sideline antics, a bonus for those of us in the stands. The move to Devaney was traumatic but it preserved fan loyalty and relationships.

And they win. Witness the banners. The growing list of academic All-Americans. These young women continue to represent Husker volleyball long after they’ve graduated. Olympians, coaches, business leaders … They are champions.

And then there’s the popcorn. Love it. All of it.

John Mabry can be reached at johnmabry47@gmail.com.

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L Magazine editor

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