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As I walked out of the NU Coliseum Friday night, a thought kept flashing through my mind, but I had to Google it to document the quote: “Promise me you’ll never forget me because if I thought you would, I’d never leave.”
That, in a nutshell, described the University of Nebraska Coliseum Saturday night when John Cook’s Huskers swept Northern Iowa to advance to an NCAA Regional at Omaha’s Century Link Center, where Nebraska will stand as one of 16 schools still alive for a national volleyball championship.
A funny thing happened on the way out the Coliseum door.
Nobody wanted to leave.
John Baylor, the voice of Nebraska volleyball, and Lindsay Peterson, the former Husker who now directs NU’s volleyball operations, were a bit shocked when the vast majority of Big Red fans were still milling around the Coliseum long after the Huskers had eliminated Northern Iowa.
Coveted Souvenir Would be an Illegal Act
Baylor and Peterson speculated that some
Husker fans might be waiting for the perfect opportunity to grab
something from the Coliseum so they could take it home as a souvenir or
personal remembrance from the 37 years Nebraska played in an
extraordinary old barn and won 93 percent of its matches.
No one wants to leave a home that produced that kind of dominance.
And everyone wanted to soak in that final competitive experience in an historic building that greets fans with 10 huge columns anchored in the shadow of an expanding Memorial Stadium. Perhaps when Nebraska returns to its storied home one final time for an exhibition match next spring, each of those 10 columns can get a single letter for that special day:
W E D-O-M-I-N-A-T-E
Isn’t that an appropriate description before Nebraska Athletics donates yet another treasure to Campus Rec, the university, the city and the state that watched the Huskers’ astonishing accomplishments inside those walls?
Bo Pelini would love seeing that expression on a nearby building.
Putting the Coliseum into a More Modern Home
Northern Iowa was a fitting foe that battled valiantly yet left the building knowing why this old barn dared anyone to invade and leave a winner.
Fortunately, Nebraska has been planning long and hard on how the Huskers can take the best features of the Coliseum and put them into the Devaney Center, making it the gemstone of all volleyball facilities.
Won’t it be sweet when the Nebraska Athletics’ construction management team takes the Coliseum court – and all of its blood, sweat and tears – and re-installs that fabled hardwood into a state-of-the-art Devaney Center?
Who says you can’t take it with you?
Nebraska begs to differ and every person who sits behind you won’t have his or her knees planted in your back, nor will you have your knee planted in the backs of those in front of you.
Friday night, the Huskers huddled in the southeast corner of the Coliseum after dispatching Northern Iowa in three straight sets. Then they circled the Coliseum one final time to high-five every Husker fan lucky enough to be on the court, and somehow, I happened to become part of that impromptu victory lap.
Last Two to Leave the Court: Werth, Thramer
Every Nebraska player was emotional making that final run around the Coliseum to say hello and goodbye at the same time. The only two Huskers in need of Kleenex at the exit sign were the last two off the court Friday night. Hannah Werth, a Springfield, Ill., senior outside hitter who received the loudest applause in pre-game introductions, bawled her way back to the locker room. Hayley Thramer, a junior middle blocker from Ewing, Neb., was right behind her – the last Husker off the court and literally crying out loud as she approached her final Coliseum steps.
Whoever didn’t cry in public did so in privacy. “There wasn’t a dry eye in that locker room,” said second-year Husker assistant coach Dan Meske, who joined Baylor for the Husker Sports Network post-game show (NCAA rules prevent head coaches from competing with the tournament’s media rules).
“This is an amazing place, and there are a lot of great memories here,” Cook said. “I told the team they’re part of history, and this was one of the most fun matches they’ll play in their lives … the last one in the Coliseum.
“What a way to send the Coliseum out,” Cook added. “I think it was fitting the last point was Lauren (Cook, his daughter) and Gina (Mancuso) for the final kill in the Coliseum. Two Nebraska girls … how fitting is that? I was contemplating taking a timeout to ask them who wanted to score the last point. But the crowd was going (strong) and it worked out great.”
Cook didn’t need contemplation, but even he would want us to point out that the first link in that history-making kill was a perfect pass from libero Lara Dystra, a California native just like her head coach.
The Coliseum Roar Was Octaves Higher
Undoubtedly sensing it had a lead role in the last act on this notable night, the Coliseum throng warmed its collective lungs long before team introductions. If you were behind the bleachers buying an over-sized cookie, you could hear a roar several octaves above ultra-enthusiastic cheering, and that bellowed howl continued in appropriate bursts throughout the match.
“The crowd was electric,” Cook said. “You know, we’ve been waiting a year for this match.”
Now, of course, we’re waiting to exhale and the results from Saturday night’s regional in Washington, so the Huskers can see what awaits them in Omaha, the road that needs to be triple paved with similar passion to help Nebraska reach the National Semifinals in Louisville.
Speaking of the Final Four, the voice of several such tournaments read his own statement the second Friday night’s second-round session ended. “You can buy tickets for the NCAA quarterfinal matches in Omaha,” familiar voice Steve Johnson informed the fans before thanking the players, the coaches and the fans who have made the Coliseum such a unique experience for nearly four decades.
Johnson ended his “Nebraska is special” speech with a John Cook quote that dates back to the day he was hired. “It’s a great day to be a Husker!” he said, knowing that every Big Red heart in the house felt just like he did.
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