Given our limited staff and the fact that —spoiler alert—none of us are actual full-time sports “journalists” in spite of the angry allegations we inevitably receive every time we make fun of your team; we really do try to bring attention to non-revenue sports and women’s sports on this site. Invariably, however, we contribute to being a part of the gender inequity of the sports landscape by spending more time on men’s sports.
I could spend a lot of time being upset about this, about how women’s sports are given precious little air time or promotion, and then are blamed for not having massive audiences. I could be angry about this country’s persistent belief that because we’ve passed a law that theoretically ensures equality, that all issues surrounding access, visibility, and money for underrepresented groups are automatically finished and never need any other thought ever again. I AM upset that this country actively hates women, not just in sports, but that’s a different article.
So instead of being angry about the many ways in which women continue to be shortchanged even though it’s 2022, let’s celebrate some women’s excellence, shall we? And nowhere is that easier to do right now than at the University of Nebraska.
While the men’s teams have mostly been on the strugglebus for years, especially the marquee sports—and don’t worry, Iowa fans, you’ll get to read plenty about that this week—the Husker women’s athletic programs have been doing just fine, thank you. Today, we highlight some of the winners in Lincoln—if you’re a Husker fan, maybe you’ll find in this list something more enjoyable to watch than the men’s marquee sports.
The big kahuna on this list, I’d be remiss if I started anywhere but here. One of the most wildly successful programs not only at Nebraska, but anywhere in the country and in any sport, Nebraska women’s volleyball is an institution. Currently helmed by legendary coach, John Cook, the Huskers made it to the NCAA finals last year—and it was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Always in contention for the conference title in the best college volleyball conference, they also have the convenient knack for rounding into form when post-season hits. Boasting top recruiting classes and eye-popping success, it’s the type of resume that any coach would envy.
In something of an anomaly for women’s sports, Husker volleyball is actually extremely well-supported and highly visible within the state. After moving on from the legendary atmosphere of the Colliseum several years ago, the team moved to the revamped Devany Center, transformed from a drab 1970s cube into a volleyball Mecca. Every game has been sold out for years, and 8,000 fans make for the lively atmosphere that Big Ten volleyball deserves. Driving around the state, it’s no rarity to see various Husker fan doodads on people’s vehicles—but look again, because an awful lot of them are specifically for the volleyball team.
Scoffers may say that this is all because the football team is terrible and the volleyball team is amazing—and perhaps that is partly true. But the long cultivation of a volleyball following stretches back to the late 80s and 1990s—times when the football team also didn’t suck. I also push back on this line of thinking—that people only pay attention to women’s sports when the men’s sports are bad. It positions men’s sports as inherently more worth watching in normal circumstances, and I think that sucks. Volleyball played at a high level—and in the Big Ten generally and Lincoln specifically—is one of the most exciting sports around, and its fervent fandom is no accident. Last season’s NCAA final, featuring Nebraska and Wisconsin, drew 1.2 million viewers—the most-watched college women’s volleyball match ever, and following an NCAA tournament that broke other records for viewership.
Lucky for you, thanks to Kind of but not really… and sometimes me, we have upped our college volleyball coverage considerably in the past few years. Check it out!
Husker Women’s Basketball
Tournament basketball and Nebraska go together like peanut butter and pickles, but it turns out, that’s only true if you’re talking about the men’s team. While the Husker men churned out another disappointing season that saw them take several months too long to round into something resembling form; the Husker women got off to a red hot start that launched them into the NCAA tournament.
After going 7-22 her first year as head coach in 2016, Amy Williams (a former player at Nebraska) has brought steady improvement to Lincoln, exactly flipping that record this year to finish 22-7. Even though that was only good for 6th in the strong Big Ten conference, the Husker women’s hoops were putting together win after win when the men’s basketball team, as you may remember, steadfastly refused to put together even one win for like, a few months. Though the Huskers were knocked out of the NCAA tourney in the first round, Williams certainly seems to have her team on a good trajectory.
As with the volleyball team, Husker women’s basketball also has a very nice place to play, sharing Pinnacle Bank Arena in lovely downtown Lincoln with the men’s team. They’ve always had a core fan base, though not as large or fervent as that which follows volleyball, and with their success, attention and fan support seems to be increasing. In 2017-18 (admittedly awhile ago, but numbers for this seem hard to come by—please let me know in the comments if you have a more recent source for this), attendance for women’s basketball games averaged 4800. Certainly, lots of room for improvement there—but that was still good for 20th best in the country.
In this case, the women’s seasonal counterpart isn’t quite as embarrassing— Husker baseball won the conference last year, which was cool! However, they failed to make the tournament (that’s the conference tournament, by the way) this season, which makes them more like their athletic department brethren than we and they would probably prefer.
Next door, however, the softball team was tearing it up, en route to claiming a Big Ten title. Long-time coach (and another former Husker!) Rhonda Revelle (what a name, right?) Has been at Nebraska since 1993, and has the cool distinction of being only one of three people to both play in the Women’s College World Series and to coach in it (and she’s the only one to do it at her alma mater.) Less cool were accusations leveled against her about creating an allegedly toxic atmosphere during her time coaching (she was placed on administrative leave, but was reinstated.) In any event, this year’s campaign launched the Huskers into a conference championship and the NCAA softball tournament. Unfortunately, things didn’t completely go their way once there, but it’s hard to be too mad about a season that ends in the national tournament.
Since I’ve apparently turned a facilities review into an integral part of this article, it bears mentioning that Husker softball enjoys a fantastic ballpark (Bowlin Stadium), adjacent to the lovely Haymarket Park that the baseball team plays on. The two stadiums are back-to-back, and both are fantastic facilities—though unfortunately, Bowlin is a little more exposed to a north wind.
So, why is it that the Husker women’s teams are thriving while the men’s teams are, um, struggling? Is this likely to be a long-term trend? What could Nebraska (or your school) do to better promote women’s athletics? And most importantly—what are you doing to support female athletics at your school?
Far be it from me to preach (lol, right), but I hope you’ll consider becoming a regular supporter of one or more women’s teams—and this is especially true if you’ve got youngsters (boys and girls!) in your life. As sports fans, we teach them which sports are “worthy” of attention, and which aren’t. Not only can you encourage girls in your life to grow up to try athletics, but you can help create a generation that sees the value and excitement of women’s sports, as well as men’s. And if you’re a Husker fan, this goal will also have the added benefit of letting you watch some actually successful teams.