Volleyball: Nebraska's newest bump-er crop

December 12, 1990|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Evening Sun Staff

COLLEGE PARK -- Welcome to Nebraska.

Here, the corn grows as high as the proverbial elephant's eye, the winter snows drift almost as deep and college football is not so much a sport as a religion.

And where volleyball is the new craze.

Volleyball? In Nebraska?

Surely, this is a joke, isn't it? Don't they play volleyball near the surf at Malibu, in the sand with Beach Boys music blaring "Little Deuce Coupe," and the oh-so-blond lifeguard keeping watch over the throng.

That is ancient history, or, at least, if the second-ranked Cornhuskers' volleyball team has its way, going into this week's NCAA Final Four to be held at Maryland's Cole Field House tomorrow and Saturday.

"Volleyball is very big in Nebraska," said Janet Kruse, an outside hitter for the Cornhuskers. "It's gotten extremely huge in the last five years."

Nebraska (32-2), champions of the Mideast Region, will meet Pacific (29-6), the Northwest winner, in the second semifinal tomorrow at 8:30 p.m. West champ UCLA will meet South winner Louisiana State in the first match at 6:30.

The two winners will advance to the championship match Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

Not so coincidentally, interest in volleyball has increased in Nebraska since the Cornhuskers have begun making regular trips to the national playoffs.

"It's starting to get a lot bigger than it was," said Kruse, a 6-foot-1 junior from Fort Calhoun, Neb. "I know when I was in junior high, it was only an intramural sport. You only played occasionally.

"But, as I got going through the high school years, there started to be a lot more camps, a lot more interest and a lot of people were doing it."

And a lot of them ended up in Lincoln. Nebraska is making its second consecutive appearance in the Final Four, and its third trip in the last five years.

The Cornhuskers -- who have won 16 straight matches -- knocked previously undefeated Penn State out of the tournament to advance to the national semifinals.

The Cornhuskers are popular, too. They set NCAA volleyball attendance records this season, drawing more than 54,500 fans to 18 home matches, an average of over 3,000 per contest.

To place that in its proper perspective, consider that the Colorado men's basketball team drew only 45,000 fans last season in Boulder.

But why is volleyball the rage of Lincoln and why are young girls in Nebraska so fired up about a presumably warm weather sport?

"It's a really fun sport," said Kruse, an All-America outside hitter and an academic All-America as well. "A lot of people can play it and it's a team sport, which is always a good thing.

"It's not so much a contact sport, so for a lot of people who maybe don't like basketball, with all the contact, volleyball's a good option. And it's exciting to watch. Fans can really get into it."

Kruse says the moment that sold her on volleyball came in her sophomore year in high school, when she saw a match at the Nebraska campus.

* About 3,000 tickets have been sold for the semifinals and championship match, and Maryland officials expect a walk-up sale of about 3,000 to 4,000. Tickets are $20. For information, call 1-800-462-TERP.

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