OMAHA, Neb. — To read the orgy of stories in the Omaha newspaper this week, one can only conclude that Nebraskans believe they have discovered the Next Great Sport, a sport that the rest of us will soon learn to love.
"Volleyball is a sport of beauty, grace and power. It's an intoxicating combination," writes Omaha World-Herald sports columnist Tom Shatel. "It is the most appealing of all the women's sports. And the most underrated of all the college sports."
"It's a sport of speed, grace and cunning, played high in the air and low on the floor, with rapid turns of momentum," writes World-Herald metro columnist Michael Kelly. "The players resemble ballet dancers with bazookas — ready, set, kill."
Time and again, people in Omaha talk of how this week's NCAA tournament Final Four will be a major turning point for women's volleyball in America. Qwest Center, the 17,000-seat home for the event, sold out in just two hours, and Saturday's final is expected to draw the largest crowd in the history of women's NCAA volleyball. Many here believe volleyball is poised to catch — or even pass — women's basketball in popularity.
"There is a power here you don't see in women's hoops," writes Shatel. "Few [basketball] players can dunk. Few block shots. But in volleyball, you usually get a power-on-power confrontation on every point.
"When one team sends two or three players to the net to block, it's fullback vs. linebacker, a goal-line stand."
A sporting-goods association claims that 46 million Americans play recreational volleyball, up from 37 million in 1990. They report that internationally volleyball is second only to soccer among participation sports.
Nebraskans take pride that a sport associated with the beaches of Southern California and Hawaii has produced so many recent All-Americans from the heartland.
"Girls grow up in Nebraska idolizing their favorite Huskers volleyball players, treating them like rock stars," writes World-Herald reporter Henry J. Cordes. "It's a fan base that has embraced the elegantly violent women's sport at all levels, helping turn Nebraska into one of the nation's hotbeds for college volleyball talent."
As it turns out, the same could be said of Seattle. Recent Huskies teams have featured a bevy of Northwesterners, including All-Americans Courtney Thompson (Kent), Christal Morrison (Puyallup), Alesha Deesing (Salem, Ore.), Candace Lee (Eugene, Ore.), Stevie Mussie (Puyallup) and Jill Collymore (Bellevue), among others.
Washington is considering a bid to host the 2010 Final Four, but take note: An editorial in the World-Herald this week lobbied to make Omaha the permanent home of the volleyball championships.
Nebraska, it seems, intends to stay ahead of the curve.