Targeted Sports - Nebraska Rising

There is no doubt that many schools are copying the DU model for success. UNO plans on being nationally relevant in hockey, soccer, and volleyball. Sound familiar? Creighton University has put money on the table to make soccer 'their' sport. And the University of Nebraska staked out women's volleyball in their packed 8,000 seat luxury box stadium as their target sport. There are big-time plans taking shape in the Cornhusker State as all three universities begin to strategically select sports that allow them to compete nationally.

Associate UNO A.D. Mike Kemp,“Hockey was a sport where we had a chance to gain national prominence. It’s not unusual to see Colorado College, with 1,800 students, or RPI, with 2,100, win a title.

“We knew this was a sport where we could compete with the Big Ten schools, surpass them and become a national power.”

Rasmussen pointed out that non-Power Five league schools like Creighton University and UNO don’t have the resources to be nationally relevant across the board. They have to pick.

“UNO did a great job of identifying hockey,” Rasmussen said. “Basketball is something we have always tried to be good in, but soccer and volleyball are also sports where we think we can be nationally competitive.

Creighton soccer has been to four College Cups (final fours) and played in one NCAA championship game. This was always the school’s best chance to win a national title.

Yes, Jays baseball made a College World Series, but winning at that level consistently is so hard in the North. Creighton’s flagship program is basketball, but playing in the Missouri Valley made it almost impossible to think about NCAA titles — though that goal is reachable now in the Big East.

But men’s soccer was different. And perfect.

“We’re not competing against Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State or Iowa for men’s soccer players,” Creighton University Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen said. “We are one of the soccer programs in the Midwest. It gives us a realistic chance.”

Give a former CU president, the Rev. John Schlegel, a huge assist for building the impressive and brilliant Morrison Stadium. Creighton could have built a facility for baseball, but chose soccer. Though not necessarily for the reason you think.

“Father Schlegel said we needed it because at most universities in the Midwest, fall is the best time to be on campus,” Rasmussen said.

University of Nebraska
Former Cornhusker coach Terry Pettit focused on women’s volleyball when it wasn’t even sanctioned by the NCAA. Why would you even think about building a volleyball dynasty (1977) at NU back then? Because the state had big, athletic girls with not a lot of sports options. Those girls could jump, block and spike a ball hard. It was a power sport. Pettit coached, developed — and won. Nebraskans fell in love.

Initially, volleyball fans fueled the bus in the form of the “Match Club.” Cook said the Match Club paid for Husker volleyball to appear on statewide TV and fly charter to games and, of course, sold out the Coliseum. And now, the 8,000-seat Devaney Center.

“Eventually the administrators stepped up,” Cook said. “Bill Byrne wanted courtside (donor) seats. Steve Pederson wanted more. Those guys were visionaries. Paul Meyers said we’re going to put in five skyboxes. I said, ‘You’re out of your mind.’

“There’s a love affair with Nebraska volleyball in Nebraska. It’s a monster.”

And that is just Nebraska. Certainly, other athletic department programs across the nation are laying out their strategic plans. Concludes UNO's Rassmussen, “We can’t be nationally competitive in all 14 sports. But we can be selective.”

Nebraska Schools Stake Familiar Turf

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