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This is a story about a 9-year-old boy and his mother who took him to the Nebraska-Iowa volleyball match in the Huskers' last week in its historic Coliseum. It's about Karla Wingard and Colin Wingard, her 9-year-old son whose sister got to see Nebraska upset UCLA and Penn State, two No. 1-ranked teams in season No. 36 - the final one at the Coliseum.
The experience was so awesome that Karla thought Colin deserved the chance to see Nebraska volleyball with its ultra-talented players and an atmosphere that was bound to intrigue even a star-struck little boy.
And it did ... immediately.
"When we walked into the Coliseum, he saw Kenny Bell," said Karla, a Human Resources manager for a Lincoln banking business.
Karla shook her head and couldn't help thinking to herself: When isn't that dude (Bell) at a home volleyball match.
'I See Him ... I Gotta Get His Autograph!'
Still, as things got quiet during the National Anthem, Karla Wingard was somewhat embarrassed when Colin spotted Nebraska's sophomore wide receiver again. "I see him ... I see him!" Colin yelled enthusiastically. "Mom, I gotta get his autograph!"
Wingard, who commutes to her Lincoln job from Rising City, Neb., told Nebraska assistant coach Dani Busboom that she was "pretty sure that everyone in our section" heard her son blurt out his intentions.
But a funny thing happened for a 9-year-old boy hooked on football. The minute he sat down to watch set one of a Big Ten Conference match, his enthusiasm switched from his favorite sport to something entirely new that appeared to his wandering eyes.
"He was amazed that a girl could do what was being done on the floor," Karla said, quoting things he kept asking: "Mom, did you see Gina (Mancuso) hit that ball? Mom, did you see Morgan (Broekhuis) hit that?" During set two, Nebraska played right in front of Colin Wingard, giving the rookie a birds-eye view of the speed and athleticism volleyball requires.
Son 'Crazy' after Werth's Somersault Play
When Hannah Werth made a defensive play that forced her to sprint to a ball and somehow manage to set it up so the Huskers could score, "My son went crazy!" Wingard said. "He was like: 'Mom, did you see that? Hannah ran after that ball and then flipped after she hit it! That was awesome!'"
Awesome indeed ... so awesome, in fact, that from that point on, "It was Hannah this and Hannah that!" Wingard said. "In my son's eyes, she couldn't do anything wrong."
This is fact, not fiction. In that transformational time of meaningful maturity, an impressionable 9-year-old no longer was talking about getting Kenny Bell's signature. He was talking about getting Hannah Werth's autograph!
Yes, Werth's scribbled name was the new holy grail that Colin Wingard wanted to chase, and a proud mother couldn't resist writing a thank-you to Busboom, who shared it with Nebraska head coach John Cook, who, in turn, shared the amazing little story with his team. Actually, this modest narrative is so potent and so powerful that it should be shared with all Nebraskans, as they prepare to watch the Huskers take on Washington. If they win Friday night, the Huskers will advance to the regional finals against either Oregon or BYU for the right to proceed to the NCAA National Semifinals in Louisville.
Volleyball: Fast, Fun, Fashionable in Nebraska
I don't want to over-hype here. But the most wonderful time of year really is high drama, high stakes, high octane and high interest for a state which has incredibly faithful football fans that are almost uniformly devoted to volleyball, especially when everything's on the line and everyone seems to be planning watch parties, just like Husker football loyalists.
In terms of dedication, these two superlative sports are not mutually exclusive. Over decades, I've learned that even though volleyball can never match the numbers or Nebraska football fans' unparalleled level of interest, even the staunchest gridiron fans make sure they track the volleyball results. even when a football-crazy state is preparing for a New Year's Day bowl game.
First and foremost, Karla Wingard wanted the Huskers to know how much luck she wished upon them in a rugged regional at Omaha's Century Link Center.
"Thank you Hannah (and the rest of the Huskers) for opening my son's eyes to what girls can do," Wingard said. "Hannah will definitely have a 9-year-old boy rooting for her this weekend. I hope they play their best and leave it all on the floor for a win not only Friday night but Saturday."
Then Wingard said what all good Huskers add to the conversation: "Go Big Red!"
Is Werth Nebraska's Version of Mia Hamm?
Hannah Werth is your classic premier athlete who grew up in a family that has five World Series rings among them, not to mention a mother and a sister who were both national-caliber athletes.
In my opinion, Werth is Nebraska's version of Mia Hamm, the Olympic soccer star who transcended her own remarkable talents. Hamm once said that "Somewhere behind the athlete you've become and the hours of practices and the coaches (and in Werth's case, parents, siblings, grandparents and uncles) who have pushed you ... is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back ... play for her!"
And that's what Hannah does. She plays for the little girl she was and, at the same time, the young woman she's become. She's competitive, emotional, inspirational, fearless and motivating - for 9-year-old boys and senior citizen bloggers who can't wait to watch Hannah and her teammates compete this weekend on a regional stage for the right to contend nationally a week later.
Here's hoping fans from across the state open their wallets and get ready to close the year watching a group of young women that will give their level best to carve out a place in Nebraska and NCAA history.
Kenny Bell Hates to Miss Any Volleyball Match
May the force be with Hannah and all of her "sisters" and all of her "supporters" and that includes Kenny Bell, who loves watching Husker volleyball every bit as much as a 9-year-old boy examining the sport for the first time.
I can't help but wonder how many more Colin Wingards are out there in Lincoln and across the state. In my mind, when Nebraska moves to an expanded Devaney Center next fall, the Huskers should sell out before the season even starts.
Husker volleyball is that good, that exciting, that exhilarating. It's worth every penny, even when Werth does what all Husker legends do ... exits stage left, waiting for the next batch of superior athletes to leave their mark on a program that almost always manages to meet pressure with ... what else?
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Voices from Husker Nation
We recently were in Tampa for a national convention. A Division II team was staying in our hotel while they were in a tournament there. When we said we were from Nebraska, the coach said: "Oh, you're in volleyball heaven!" p.s. Colin Wingard is our neighbor. Ramona Ellison, Rising City, Nebraska
Just read your article about Colin Wingard and his watching
the Husker volleyball team play. Thank you for a well written
and entertaining piece. Go Big Red! Guy Dunning, Branson, Missouri