By ERIC OLSON AP Sports Writer
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — An attendance record of global proportions could be set Wednesday night when the University of Nebraska hosts a celebration of volleyball at Memorial Stadium.
The event will feature an exhibition between in-state Division II powers Nebraska-Kearney and Wayne State and a regular-season match between Omaha and the fourth-ranked Cornhuskers. Country artist Scotty McCreery will perform afterward.
Nebraska athletic department officials have taken aim at the women’s sporting event attendance record of 91,648, set during a Champions League soccer match when Barcelona defeated Real Madrid 5-2 at the Camp Nou Stadium in 2022.
“If any place can do it, it’s Nebraska,” Huskers freshman outside hitter Harper Murray said.
Memorial Stadium’s official capacity is just over 85,000 for football, but that number will be higher for this event because seating on the field is available. The court is positioned on the north end of the stadium, which is the home field of the Huskers football team.
Though 91,648 is widely acknowledged as the women’s sports attendance record, at least one match at the unofficial 1971 Women’s World Cup in Mexico City reportedly drew 110,000 people.
The American record attendance for a women’s sporting event is 90,185 for the 1999 World Cup soccer final between the United States and China at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California — the game where Brandi Chastain ripped off her shirt after scoring the decisive penalty shot for the U.S. win.
The NCAA does not track attendance across all sports, but associate director of media coordination and statistics Jeff Williams said a crowd of 90,000-plus would easily be among the largest for a non-football game. A 2010 outdoor hockey game between Michigan and Michigan State at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor drew more than 113,000 fans.
A message seeking comment from officials of Guinness World Records was not immediately returned.
Whatever the attendance on Wednesday, the event was seen as a celebration of women’s sports and of volleyball in particular.
Nebraska has sold out 306 consecutive regular-season matches (Wednesday’s event won’t count toward the streak because it is not being held on the team’s Devaney Center court). The Huskers have led the nation in attendance every season since 2013, and eight of the top nine crowds in NCAA volleyball history are matches that have involved Nebraska.
“I keep flashing back to the USA soccer team playing at the Rose Bowl,” Huskers coach John Cook said. “That was a big moment for women’s sports and soccer really shot up. I think this is another great chance for that to happen in the sport of volleyball.”
Nebraska has won five national championships in volleyball, and its program is one of the few in Division I women’s sports that turns a profit — $1 million last year, according to athletic department CFO Doug Ewald.
“This is a statement on Title IX, and having two daughters of my own, what Title IX has done for women’s sports is huge,” fan Troy Pfannenstiel of Omaha said before the matches.
Chancellor Rodney Bennett canceled classes for the day. NCAA President Charlie Baker and Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti were scheduled to be on hand. So were Husker volleyball players who were part of iconic coach Terry Pettit’s teams over four decades. High school teams from across a state stretching 430 miles border to border were excused from classes to attend.
There are 75 women from the state of Nebraska who are on Division I volleyball rosters this season. At 44 players per million in population, the state trails only Hawaii (67 per million) in Division I players produced per capita, according to volleyball statistician and historian Rich Kern of RichKern.com.
Volleyball has surpassed basketball as the No. 1 girls high school team sport in the United States. It’s long been No. 1 in Nebraska.
About 7,000 girls play high school volleyball in the state. Volleyball has been played in varying forms in Nebraska since the early 1900s. For many years, girls volleyball matches were warmup acts for boys basketball games. Volleyball became a sanctioned sport in 1972 and took off in the late 1970s when Pettit invited many of the state’s high school coaches to work at his camps in Lincoln.
Pettit also conducted so-called “satellite” clinics in small towns across the state. In a place where boys grow up dreaming of becoming Cornhusker football players, many girls are equally passionate about some day playing volleyball for a Nebraska team that annually ranks among the nation’s elite.
Ella Beck, 10, came with a group from tiny Pierce to see her first college volleyball match and root for her favorite player, setter Lexi Rodriguez.
Neveah Kehr, 10, came with her mom, Nicki, from Bismarck, North Dakota, to be part of the event. Nicki graduated from Nebraska, and she brought up her daughter watching the Huskers on television.
Neveah wore the No. 5 jersey of middle blocker Bekka Allick at a pep rally before the matches and, with more than 1,000 fans cheering, was invited to walk to where the players stood and was introduced to the woman she called her idol.
Neveah teared up, and Bekka gave her a hug.