Omaha welcomes new pro volleyball team with open arms

Nebraska team will compete in the newly-formed Pro Volleyball Federation
Nebraska Pro Volleyball will play its home games at CHI Health Center in Omaha starting in 2024.
Published: Jul. 13, 2023 at 4:31 PM CDT|Updated: 11 hours ago
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The CHI Health Center got a new tenant Thursday morning.

Nebraska Pro Volleyball announced it will make the 18,000-seat venue the home for its women’s pro volleyball team.

The team will play in the Pro Volleyball Federation. Other clubs currently in the league are Atlanta, San Diego, Orlando, Grand Rapids and Columbus.

But here in the Omaha metro, one thing is for sure: They get on the volleyball courts at a very young age.

They start early learning the fundamentals of the sport. Athletes range from pre-K to the third grade at The Volleyball Academy summer camp in La Vista.

Krista Barr is the assistant director at The Volleyball Academy, and she was excited when she heard about a women’s professional volleyball team coming to Omaha.

“[Pro volleyball in Omaha] is phenomenal,” Barr said. “This is awesome. What a great opportunity not only for the Omaha area, the surrounding communities to be able to watch this live. Volleyball is truly the treasure of our state.”

Barr says bringing pro volleyball not only to Nebraska but to the United States in general, is a major win.

“In the past, they’ve had to go overseas if they wanted to continue to play professionally,” Barr said. “To have that opportunity right here in the United States and in Omaha is phenomenal.”

Diane Mendenhall is the president of Nebraska Pro Volleyball. She has a rich background in the sport, including 12 years in the Nebraska Cornhuskers volleyball program, which is a perennial powerhouse in NCAA D-I competition.

Mendenhall says Nebraska will put a good team on the floor with a roster that includes a couple of former Huskers.

“We have All-Americans, we have national champions,” Mendenhall said. “We have players who are participating on the national team right now and former Olympians.”

Before Title IX, women’s athletics was merely an afterthought; nothing more than intramural activities were available for female athletes.

Now, women’s athletics are in the game as high-level college and pro teams are attracting more and more fans.

The introduction of a new pro volleyball league is an example of the great leaps women's sports have made in the past century.

“To know that [girls] have that opportunity, it just heightens everything from their self-confidence to their belief of what the world thinks of them and their ability to not only play professional volleyball but to be CEOs of companies,” Mendenhall said.

Nebraska Pro Volleyball hopes a good team draws big crowds.

Creighton University head volleyball coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth is one of the best in the country. She tells the Omaha public if those dreams are to come true for these young girls, the community must back the home team.

“We need people to come out and support,” Booth said. “If you want your little girls, your grandchildren, and you nieces to be able to have the opportunities that little boys have, we need to get out here and support this program.”

The CHI Health Center is no stranger to mega-sized volleyball crowds, packing the place for Nebraska-Creighton games and the NCAA Final Four.

“I know a lot of Nebraskans are familiar with Big Ten players, so we have two from Wisconsin, two from Penn State and one from Minnesota,” Mendenhall said. “They’re excited to play here. They’ve played in Nebraska and they understand the passion and knowledge these fans have.”

Mendenhall believes local ownership will give Nebraska Pro Volleyball a long-lasting spot on the area’s sports calendar.

“It’s exactly like the NFL, NBA, MLB, where the communities are invested with local ownership,” Mendenhall said. “That’s what gives it staying power because it’s owned by the communities.”

Barr is hoping women’s pro volleyball in Omaha will grow the sport and give her young athletes something to practice and work toward in the future.