The Origins of the Husker Volleyball Team

By Breanna Fanta, Editorial Assistant

The University of Nebraska women’s volleyball team is known for its large fan base and its five national championships. This wasn’t always the case. The team originated as a response to inequity at a time when women’s sports were not taken seriously.

The 1972 federal law known as Title IX required colleges to provide equal opportunities for men’s and women’s sports. The requirement to have more women’s sports led to the official women’s Husker volleyball season in 1975.

That year, Dr. Aleen Swofford was hired as the university’s assistant athletic director in charge of intercollegiate women’s sports.

Swofford knew that women’s sports would not attract the level of attention that football did, but she saw potential in the newly official women’s volleyball team to draw crowds and bring revenue. While many people at the time believed that women’s athletics would take money and attention away from men’s sports, Swofford’s goal was to level the two.

Prior to having women’s volleyball as an official sport, UNL had an “extramural” volleyball squad starting in 1967. The team played against other Nebraska colleges and had a new coach every winter. Since most coaches were graduate students fulfilling teaching credits, the players ran their own practices based on old high school drills. The college provided white uniform tops and blue polyester shorts—but only to P.E. majors. Other players purchased their own from sporting goods stores downtown.

When UNL formed its official women’s volleyball team in 1975, Pat Sullivan became its first coach. She had been coaching swimming and diving at UNL since 1968, and was excited to be a part of the new team.

 

(“The 1975 Nebraska Volleyball Team was the first team in program history. The Huskers went 34-8 and advanced to the AIAW regional finals.” Nebraska Media Relations/Journal Star Husker Extra)

 

Though official, the volleyball team initially did not receive state funding. The team raised their own funds. When they played in a national tournament, they had to raise money for airplane tickets. The team also received hand-me-down uniforms from the tennis team, but not all of them fit. To purchase more uniforms, team members “took pledges and jogged from Lincoln to Omaha the day following a match,” according to the Journal Star Husker Extra.

The 1975 expansion of the women’s athletic department led to more out-of-state competitions. For the volleyball team, this meant playing against higher-level teams. Sullivan felt the stress. The 1974 “extramural” team had finished with a record of 18-6 and Sullivan felt that there was an expectation to be met.

The 1975 team was invited to the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women’s (AIAW) National Volleyball Championships (they didn’t compete in the NCAA until the 1980s) and finished with a 34-8 season record. This appeared “unmatchable” for the 1976 season, but Sullivan was hopeful: “The team is getting stronger year after year, but this year’s 18-woman squad is definitely the strongest and smartest we’ve ever had.”

The 1976 Huskers went 23-0, ending their season by hosting a tournament in which they defeated all five of their opponents: UNO, UNL’s second team, Northwest Missouri State University, Midland Lutheran College, and Grand View College of Iowa.

Today, the volleyball program is very different from what it was in 1975. The team has attracted crowds, as Swofford believed would happen, but inequity between men’s and women’s sports is still an issue. Despite the challenges, the original Husker volleyball team represents resilience and paved way for the success of the current team.

 

Posted April 9, 2021


Sources:

  • Omaha World-Herald, July 3, 1975
  • Daily Nebraskan, Sept. 4, 1975
  • Daily Nebraskan, Sept. 19, 1975
  • Daily Nebraskan, Oct. 4, 1975
  • Daily Nebraskan, Sept. 9, 1976
  • Daily Nebraskan, Oct. 18, 1976
  • Lincoln Journal Star Husker Extra, Jan. 25, 2012
  • Omaha World-Herald, Oct. 15, 2019

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