KANSAS CITY, MO – Kansas City is at the center of the volleyball universe with the NCAA Volleyball Final Four kicking off Thursday at the Sprint Center.
Fans from across the country have traveled in to watch Nebraska take on Penn State, followed by a match between Florida and Stanford.
Before the matches kicked off, fans packed the Power and Light District for a rally that proved to be the ultimate fan experience for some.
“(My daughters) just love to watch volleyball, and we love our Huskers," Jennifer McHugh said. "We brought them up as Husker fans, so we’re excited to see them play."
McHugh, along with her husband and children, attended the pre-game rally inside the Power and Light District where fans got to sign volleyballs, take photos and even score free t-shirts.
More volleyball fans and coaches packed the Kansas City Convention Center for a coaches convention. The weeklong conference culminates with this weekend's big matches.
“People love to watch volleyball," KC club volleyball coach Bryon Larsen said. "It’s one of those things that once you start watching it and playing it, you get hooked. It’s very spectator-friendly."
Larsen is the head coach for Kansas City’s Team Dynasty volleyball club. Several of his players were selected to perform demonstrations at the coaches convention. They're also attending this weekend’s matches.
“We want (our players) to watch the people that play their position," Larsen said. "These are the best collection of athletes in the country that many of our girls are aspiring to be one day, so the fact that it’s in Kansas City is a dream for us."
It’s an experience the young players in this program won’t soon forget.
“It feels really great. It feels like I’m up there with all of the college people, and it’s just really fun I guess,” 12-year-old volleyball player Heidi Devers said.
“I’m looking forward to just seeing the players because I’ve been to one of the colleges before. I want to play in college someday,” Sydney Draper said.
Excitement surrounding these NCAA volleyball matches -- and the sport as a whole -- is growing across the nation.
Two years ago, for the first time, more high school girls played volleyball than basketball, according to a recent poll conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations.