New Pro Volleyball League Plants Flag in Omaha 

By Lincoln Anreal

Omaha’s volleyball hotbed is about to get even warmer.

The city has hosted multiple NCAA final fours and has set several volleyball attendance records. It is home to two Division I programs and is up the road from Nebraska, which is playing a sold-out game in Memorial Stadium. 

On Wednesday, LOVB announced a new franchise in Omaha will be part of its professional league when it launches in November 2024. It is the league’s fifth announced team in addition to franchises in Houston; Atlanta; Madison, Wisconsin; and Salt Lake City.

“Nebraska is a state that obviously lives and breathes the sport,” LOVB founder and CEO Katlyn Gao said. “You don’t get to an 83,000 sellout game under 48 hours if you didn’t already have that as the built-in audience and momentum. It was a pretty easy decision.”

The LOVB franchise will be the second pro volleyball team in Omaha. The Supernovas, part of the Pro Volleyball Federation, is slated to begin in February. LOVB will be the third professional league in the United States. Athletes Unlimited has played its two seasons at a single site with changing rosters every week. 

LOVB is promoting itself as the first full-season professional volleyball league in the United States. Gao said that means they intend to have a four-month regular season. 

The league will have “vertically-aligned” organizations, meaning each professional franchise will partner with a local club team that develops younger players. In Omaha, LOVB is working with Premier Nebraska. 

“As volleyball continues to grow at all levels and at a rapid pace, LOVB’s community-first model is creating all new opportunities for our sport, our city and our state, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to be a part of this momentous moment in Nebraska’s history,” Premier club director Shannon Smolinski said.

The league also has NIL partnerships with college players, including Lindsay Krause, Lexi Rodriguez and Harper Murray at Nebraska and Creighton’s Norah Sis. Both Krause and Sis played for Premier during their prep careers. 

For now, LOVB won’t have any personnel in Omaha in the immediate future, but as it figures out logistics, it will build a support staff, add players and find a home court. The league has attracted a list of investors that includes Kevin Durant, Billie Jean King, David Blitzer and Chelsea Handler. 

“We’ve done the work. We all know the plan, and we’ve got the right people, and we’re building a legacy league and it’s step-by-step, milestone-by-milestone,” Gao said. “The most important thing is that what that demonstrates is just continued momentum. We’re not here as a flash in the pan. This is very much about building something that is sustainable for the impact to be felt for generations to come.”

Even though the league is still a year away from starting, it has already gained the commitment of several national team members, including former Huskers Kelsey Robinson Cook and Justine Wong-Orantes. 

Robinson Cook said she looks forward to playing professionally in her home country. She said volleyball support in Nebraska is unmatched and always provides an incredible atmosphere.

“There’s been a lot of sacrifice involved and a lot of challenges that you just have to navigate,” she said. “I am grateful for those opportunities and they haven’t always been easy, but I think it’s definitely something that I’ve worked really hard for and it’ll be even sweeter to have the opportunity to play in front of friends and family.”

Robinson Cook is excited to see other players, including Olympians Jordan Thompson, Micha Hancock, Carli Lloyd and Jordyn Poulter, sign on to the league. She also enjoys working with younger athletes, as she did last week at a camp in California. 

She’s seen the benefits of vertically-aligned volleyball clubs. Almost all the professional teams she’s played with in her 10-year career have a youth program that develops younger players for their senior team. 

Cook Robinson saw the benefits directly as Stanford freshman Ipar Kurt was a member of the Fenerbahce youth program in Turkey when Robinson Cook played with the senior national team in 2019–2020. 

Now, she hopes to have the same impact on future volleyball players in the United States. 

“It’s important that young girls get to see every day the professionals that they dream to be,” Cook Robinson said. “I’m obviously grateful to have grown up in this sport, but I can’t wait to just walk in a gym and see the youth players who are just getting after it and being able to connect with them and then talk to them and just be there to help inspire their journey.”

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