LINCOLN, Neb. — The largest crowd ever to witness a women’s sporting event filled Memorial Stadium on Wednesday night, as 92,003 fans watched the five-time NCAA champion Nebraska Huskers volleyball team take on Omaha.
After the Huskers won the first two sets on their way to their three-set sweep, the attendance record was announced to the red-clad Nebraska faithful, who cheered wildly.
Dubbed “Volleyball Day in Nebraska,” the match was the culmination of months of planning for a program and state that have long led the way in enthusiasm for the sport. The crowd at what is usually the home of Nebraska football broke the previous world record for women’s sports attendance — 91,648 — that was set on April 22, 2022, in Barcelona, Spain, for a Champions League match between FC Barcelona and Wolfsburg.
It also topped the previous record for a women’s event in the United States: the 90,185 who attended the Women’s World Cup final between Team USA and China at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on July 10, 1999. That was a landmark event for women’s athletics in general and women’s soccer in particular, won by the Americans on penalty kicks, with the deciding kick coming from Brandi Chastain.
The competition stakes were not comparable on Wednesday, as the 2023 college volleyball season is just getting underway. But the Nebraska program, the university and the state took the attendance competition seriously. Nebraska is known for its sellout streaks in both football and volleyball.
Nebraska was involved in the biggest crowd to see an NCAA volleyball match: 18,755 for the NCAA championship match between the Huskers and winner Wisconsin on Dec. 18, 2021, at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
Wisconsin also set the NCAA attendance record for a regular-season volleyball match last September: 16,833. The Huskers wanted to go bigger than that, and they did.
“There’s a great business case and strategy around women’s athletics long term that maybe college athletics hasn’t embraced,” Nebraska athletic director and former football star Trev Alberts said. “And we think here in Nebraska, long before I became the athletic director, we’ve significantly invested in women’s athletics, and you’re seeing the result of that by seeing the success of the volleyball program and the fan base surrounding it.”
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 was easily 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.
Thousands of fans were already milling around outside Memorial Stadium early Wednesday afternoon, and many streamed in for the opening exhibition match between Division II’s Nebraska-Kearney and Wayne State.
By the time the Huskers were ready to make their entrance, the stadium was packed, jets flew in formation overhead and fans went high-decibel. The volleyball squad trotted out to the field on which a court had been built on the northern side of the legendary stadium, which opened in 1923.
Memorial Stadium’s official capacity is just over 85,000 for football, but that number was higher for this event because there were seats and standing room on the field.
Nebraska football is celebrating a century of memories at Memorial Stadium this fall, and Wednesday’s volleyball match created another unforgettable event here.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.