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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
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
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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