NCAA Final Four, Penn State vs. Nebraska, 12/14/17

Jeff Hunter watches daughter Kelly play in an NCAA volleyball national semifinal Thursday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kelly Hunter’s parents met four decades ago, when Kelly’s mom, Lori Melcher, played volleyball at Nebraska in the late 1970s.

For Jeff Hunter, that marked the beginning of a 40-year volleyball odyssey, a journey for the Hunters that reached a milestone Saturday when Kelly, their youngest daughter, led Nebraska against Florida for a national championship in the final match of her career.

Jeff and Lori hit every Husker match this season, from Florida in August to Big Ten outposts in Piscataway, College Park and State College.

There was the regional in Kentucky, and a convenient Final Four location in Kansas City.

All told, Jeff said they’ve missed barely a handful of matches during Kelly’s Nebraska career and older sister Lindsey’s four years playing at Missouri.

All that travel time meant lots of hours together for Jeff and Lori. But don’t look for them at the same place during a match.

“We’ve never sat together at any sporting event,” Jeff Hunter said.

As Nebraska fought toe-to-toe with Penn State in Thursday’s national semifinal, Jeff Hunter nestled into a spot along the aisle.

It was not his preferred vantage point, which at the Devaney Sports Center is in one of the tunnels leading to and from the playing floor.

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“I like to be behind the team, to see where everyone’s moving,” he said.

Sometimes that means getting to know the ushers, learning where it’s OK to post up.

But at the Final Four, the rules got tougher.

“They won’t let me stand where I want to be.”

Before the match, Jeff Hunter said he didn't know what to expect when Kelly’s career came to an end Saturday night. She spent five seasons at Nebraska, the last three as the starting setter on teams that reached the Final Four. Nebraska's 3-1 win over Florida gave the Huskers two NCAA titles in three years.

A decade earlier, Lindsey starred from 2002 to 2005 with Missouri.

Throw in their high school careers in Papillion, all those club practices and tournaments, and you have a true volleyball legacy.

It could have ended Thursday, but when Kelly won a joust on match point, the stage was set for one more match. One more trip to the arena.

“It’s been great,” Jeff said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.


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