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Here’s an interesting piece of trivia for you. Of the 50 states in America, which one produces more Division I college volleyball players per capita than anyone else in the United States? Pat yourself on the back if you answered Nebraska, and don’t apologize for knowing the source of that information … a Lincoln-based volleyball website launched by Rich Kern, whose site is used by 99 percent of the nation’s college coaches. “It’s an amazing fact, but I’m not surprised,” Nebraska Volleyball Coach John Cook said. “Look at our (2012) Big Ten championship team. We started three Nebraska kids this past season. Iowa State (coached by NU All-American Christy Johnson) also started three Nebraskans, and they were one swing away from making the Final Four last year. Other Big 12 schools still come in and recruit Nebraska girls, too, because they’re well trained and well coached. They know and understand the game and play hard.”
We bring all of this up for one reason. The primary feeder system of Nebraska’s top volleyball talent took a giant step forward recently when former Husker setter Maggie Griffin signed an agreement for her Volleyball Club Nebraska (vcNebraska) to rent the four suspended volleyball courts at Lincoln’s Abbott Sports Complex five nights a week for 3½ hours a night. “While this in and of itself does not guarantee financial success for the complex or even that portion of the indoor center, it is a tremendous step forward and provides us with a path that hopefully will turn volleyball into one of the pillars of the complex,” said Brian Clark, a co-executive director of the Abbott Sports Complex. The “amen” you just heard in the background in response to that statement comes from Cook, who sees this as the antidote to a series of unfortunate events that kept volleyball from keeping its statewide momentum. One roadblock was prohibitive prices for Lincoln courts and lack of a leader who was willing to analyze a business model, negotiate an agreement, finalize a contract and then get Nebraska volleyball moving back to its future.
“This new agreement is a huge deal for volleyball in Nebraska,” Cook said. “Because of its location and the way its courts are constructed, Abbott is as good as any volleyball facility in the country. The location is ideal, and the complex is first-class. Lincoln is a good central spot for kids to converge from Omaha and Papillion to Grand Island and Gretna. What this does is keep costs down for world-class instruction, and personally, it’s very rewarding to see a former player like Maggie sign a long-term agreement with Abbott, so young kids will get great training and instruction every time they walk on the court. I have no doubt that Maggie will instill the same passion in them that she showed when she played for us. I’m also excited because this allows our players to get involved and give back and inspire young players as well. Abbott’s location allows our kids to help coach without having to drive all over the place. We’ve had so many past and present players help out, and this simplifies the process for everyone. All the Nebraska kids who have come to our program have gone through the Abbott Sports Complex, and this will probably enhance the national research that Rich (Kerns) has done since he conducted his original study.”
To enable all of this to happen, Griffin proved every bit as savvy in a business sense as she was running Nebraska’s high-powered offense as the Huskers’ setter in 2007. The St. Charles, Ill., native originally played at Michigan State before transferring to Nebraska and earning a degree in Finance. “She’s a product of the Great Lakes Center Volleyball Club in Chicago,” Cook said, pointing out that Great Lakes is still considered the most successful program for boys and girls clubs in the country. To gain a keener understanding of operating a club at a high level, Griffin went back to her old club last winter and shadowed its leader for a full week. “She wanted to observe everything and see if this was really what she wanted to do,” Cook said. “Coming off that experience, she felt prepared to create a business plan, so she can run a similar type program – on a much smaller scale – here in Nebraska. I know she really appreciates the way Brian and Dan (Soltys) – Abbott’s co-executive directors – worked with her to make this became a reality. They both understand how a program like this has to be built systematically without overextending the available resources. I think it will grow faster than Maggie thinks it will because she’s running it. People who have been around Maggie know that she’ll do it right.”
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