By Lincoln Arneal
As Bekka Allick and Ally Batenhorst emerged from the tunnels in Memorial Stadium and onto the playing field on Monday, they began to freak out.
Their volleyball match in Memorial Stadium, just two days away, was starting to get real. The pair filmed a couple of TikTok videos and even tested out diving on the elevated court.
“The fact that this is going to be a reality in a matter of 48 hours is insane,” Allick said.
After months of hype and promotion, Nebraska will take the court against Nebraska-Omaha in Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m. Wayne State and Nebraska-Kearney will kick off the day with an exhibition match at 4:30 p.m.
Allick said she’s been feeling grateful for the opportunity to play in the match and experiencing all the hubbub that surrounds it. She said NU coach John Cook has been prepping the team to be glad they get the opportunity.
“We’ve had all kinds of athletes come through this legacy program,” Allick said. “Why didn’t this happen when Jordan Larson and Sarah Pavan were here? All of these amazing legends and it’s us. We were chosen to have this and (Cook) pushes this on us everyday. An ‘attitude of gratitude.’ We don’t know when this is gonna happen again, if ever.”
As part of the event, the Huskers will smash the attendance record for a regular-season match, which Wisconsin took from NU last year with 16,833 fans at the Kohl Center in Madison. Nebraska holds the record for most fans at an NCAA tournament match (18,755) when it played the Badgers in the 2021 championship match.
NU will challenge for the record for largest women’s sporting event in the United States (90,185 fans, 1999 World Cup soccer final), the Memorial Stadium record (91,585 fans, NU vs. Miami football in 2014) and the world’s largest women’s sporting event (91,648 fans, Barcelona vs. Wolfsurg soccer in the Women’s Champions League in 2022). Depending on how many people cram in, they could go for the all-time record for a volleyball match (95,887 fans, Brazil vs. Soviet Union men in 1982).
“I don’t think really any of us are able to grasp what’s really happening and going down tomorrow,” Husker junior Merritt Beason said on Tuesday. “I think it will hit us all once we are walking out of the tunnel. Ninety-three thousand people is kinda hard to wrap your head around and the fact that they’re here for us and here supporting us is kinda crazy to think about. It’s hard to put it into perspective and prepare for it honestly.”
When NU coach John Cook saw the court set up in the stadium, he had his own “Hoosiers” moment. It looked so small in the cavernous venue.
“I actually had to go measure the court because I thought they messed it up,” he said. “It was too small. Because it was just out there. It just looks smaller than when it’s in Devaney. But I walked it off and it was accurate.”
The Huskers will have a practice Tuesday night where they will get a better feel for the environment and the conditions. While all of NU’s players have played in the elements during the beach season, it will be different on a hard court and inside a huge stadium.
Cook said the two biggest challenges will be dealing with depth perception and the court setup.
Without a roof overhead, judging when to hit a ball could be more challenging. Even in bigger arenas they still have a roof to calibrate against, but the open sky makes it similar to a beach match.
The court is set up on a platform with plenty of space outside the Teraflex surface to ensure no one runs off the edge. However, that puts the bench further away from the action and will affect players’ normal routine and could alter communication with coaches.
Then there is the weather. Beason said she will have a towel handy to help with sweat from humidity and temperature in the low 80s. The teams will also have a longer break between the second and third sets so they can change uniforms if necessary.
While Beason’s first time inside a full Memorial Stadium will be for a game she plays in, Allick attended a Husker football game two years ago. Growing up, she went to tailgates across the street from the stadium but never went inside.
The Huskers will use the football team’s locker room and get to participate in a lot of the usual game-day traditions. Allick said she’s excited to participate in the volleyball team’s version of the Tunnel Walk.
“I kind of wish I had a couple of pads on and we could run into each other and feel like a bunch of dogs,” Allick said. “It’ll be sick. … What a production. It goes to show that like football, volleyball is a really big deal here. It’s cool that we get a taste of it.”
Allick is looking forward to soaking up as much of the crowd atmosphere as possible. She said she might bring her cowboy boots for the Scotty McCreery concert afterward.
The crowd will be full of different groups that provide inspiration to the Huskers. Almost 100 former NU players are coming back to watch the match and 40 buses full of high school and younger volleyball players will also be making the trip to Lincoln.
Beason said she’s excited to meet some of the former legends whose names she’s seen on the walls of the home arena. Also, because tickets for matches in the Devaney Center can be hard to come by, Beason is looking forward to playing in front of the next generation of players.
“At the end of the day. I know most people on our team play because someone inspired them,” she said. “Whoever it was for that person on our team, we get to be that for young girls now. I think it’s so cool for us. That’s what drives a lot of people on our team is they want to do it for the person after us. I think it’s super cool for us to be able to obviously be in this environment, but for so many young girls to be able to be here and to share the experience with us.”
Cook said he’s taking each moment as it comes and is trying to soak up as much of the experience as possible. While he is trying to prep the players on what to expect, nothing will get them ready to be in the middle of more than 90,000 fans watching them.
“This is all new to me too, so I’m just trying to just take advantage of it,” Cook said. “I did have this thought yesterday, this is as close as I’m gonna be to being the head football coach at Nebraska, playing down here. This is gonna be awesome.”
ATTENDANCE RECORDS TO WATCH
• 16,833 – NCAA regular season volleyball, Florida at Wisconsin, Sept. 16, 2022
• 18,755 – NCAA volleyball attendance record, Wisconsin vs. Nebraska, Columbus, Ohio; Dec. 18, 2021
• 90,185 – Women’s sporting event in the United States, 1999 World Cup soccer final
• 91,585 – Memorial Stadium record, Miami vs. Nebraska football, Sept. 20, 2014
• 91,648 – Women’s sporting event, Barcelona-Wolfsburg, Women’s Champions League soccer semifinal, April 21, 2022
• 95,887 – Volleyball record, Brazil vs. USSR men, 1982