-- The NCAA women's volleyball championship got underway Thursday in Omaha, Nebraska, and with it came thousands of dedicated fans from all over the country. Just who are these devoted supporters sitting in the stands? We decided to find out. During the semifinal games at CenturyLink Center, we met some of the sport's most loyal followers. While every fan has a story to tell, here are some of our favorites in their own words.
Abby Smith, Cara Connaster, Lindsey Meyer, Sydney Shutter, Julia Dyche
Lindsey: We actually play soccer at Texas, so the volleyball girls are like our best friends. Sydney lives with some of them, and the rest of us are just really close with them.
Abby: We're so excited for them.
espnW: That's awesome that you guys came here to support them. What made you decide to make the trip?
Sydney: We went to the last games at home during the regional rounds and they were so much fun. They were some of the most fun games I've ever been to. We got on the court for the last one, and I almost got in trouble ...
Julia: We went to the final four last year and had so much fun. We knew we had to come again.
Cara: Volleyball is just so exciting. I mean people score every point, unlike soccer. I mean we play for 90 minutes, and someone might score every 45 minutes. It's just so different. And as fans, that means we get to celebrate quite often here.
Sydney: I mean honestly, that last game that got them here, was so exciting. It really was like the happiest moment of my life. I was just so excited that we were able to come this weekend.
Abby: It's a 13-hour drive from Austin but totally worth it.
Sydney: The semester ended on Tuesday, so we're starting our break here.
espnW: Why did you make cutouts of every single player on the team's face?
Cara: To embarrass them, of course!
Sydney: For senior night, they made little ones for the three seniors and so we then blew up all of their faces for the last game. I told them to be looking out for them tonight. I ended up giving a few to their families, mainly because I don't have enough hands to hold them all.
Ann and Connor Rosfeld
Ann: We've been Huskers fans since before he was born! And we've been volleyball season ticket holders since they were $7 a seat.
espnW: How much are they now?
Ann: I think they're $15+ now. It's still not bad. It's amazing to have it in Omaha this year. We came the other two years that it was here, and to regionals here as well. We would be here regardless of if the Huskers were playing. We bought tickets the day they went on sale. We drove up from Callaway, Nebraska. It took about five hours. We'll be here all weekend, no matter what happens tonight.
espnW: What makes this event so special?
Ann: It's fun and it's really family oriented. The kids like it. There's stuff for them to do ... ice cream to eat. It's just fun. It seems that wholesome fun doesn't have much of a place in the world anymore, but it's fun and wholesome and everyone just gets along and enjoys. And the kids got an extra day-and-a-half of Christmas break, so that doesn't hurt either.
espnW: Wow, that's a win-win for everyone. What grade are you in?
Connor: Eighth grade. It's so fun being here. I've been watching volleyball as long as I can remember. It's always been a part of my life. I was born a Huskers fan.
Emily Tilton and Morgan Cox
Morgan: We actually met playing volleyball in first grade, 16 years ago.
Emily: So we're pretty much here reliving our history together.
Morgan: We played all the way from YMCA to at nationals together. Our parents are best friends too, so we're just really close.
espnW: Do you both still play volleyball?
Emily: I actually coach a club team in Topeka now. I just love the sport.
Morgan: I don't play anymore. I go to KU though, and she used to but transferred. I have a degree, but I came back for a fifth year to get a degree in journalism. I'm retired from the sport though.
espnW: What made you decide to come to Omaha this weekend?
Emily: I love volleyball. I just can't stay away from the sport. And we get to see each other, which is always great.
espnW: Would you have come if Kansas wasn't playing?
Morgan: Probably not. This is such a huge deal for Kansas. I mean, we paid an arm and a leg for tickets.
espnW: How much did you pay for tickets?
Morgan: Well, we originally paid $70, but then the NCAA told us they were oversold so we couldn't get those. We ended up going through StubHub and paid $130.
espnW: What made you say it was worth the extra $60? That's a lot of money.
Morgan: I really just wanted to see [Emily].
Emily: I really wanted to see her too, and I really didn't want to miss this! My mom and I will probably come on Saturday even if KU loses tonight. All the fans are just so dedicated, it's so fun to see. I just love the volleyball atmosphere.
Morgan: There was a pregame party with a bunch of team's fans, and everyone was so nice. Whether they knew you or not, they treated you like a friend. It was amazing.
Nicole Surges, Tracy Nelson and Gina Uhrbom
Nicole: We're here for the Gopher volleyball team! We go every year. Well, we missed last year but we've gone every other year. I think this is our eighth year coming.
espnW: What makes it such a great event that keeps you coming back every year?
Nicole: It's great volleyball, and great women athletes and it's something we do together every year.
Gina: It's an awesome event. We always put it on the calendar every year and make sure we meet up for it. Nicole and I both live in Minnesota, and Tracy lives in California.
espnW: How long have you all been friends?
Nicole: Well, we met as students at the University of Minnesota about 21 years ago.
Tracy: I think it's been longer than that ...
Nicole: Maybe 25 years?
Tracy: I think 29.
espnW: Maybe we should just go with "awhile?"
Nicole: I guess you could just go with decades.
espnW: What are your hopes for the weekend?
Nicole: Minnesota to win it all! It would be really special to be here to see them win it. We were in Long Beach [in 2004] and saw them lose in the championship, and we've been really hoping to see them win since then. It would be magic.
Debbie Meister and Katie Hampton, with Karl and Cara
Debbie: I play volleyball, and we've gone to a lot of final fours over the years.
espnW: How many have you been to?
Debbie: Probably about 10. The best one was probably in San Antonio [in 2005]. We buy out tickets a year in advance, so we never know if Nebraska will be playing when we plan on going. We're from Omaha, so we would be here no matter who was playing. It's just such a high level of competition. This is my granddaughter Katie, and these are my great-grandchildren. It's Karl and Cara's first final four, but Katie has been to the rest of them with me. It's usually us and my husband.
espnW: Were they just born Nebraska fans? Is that how it works in this family?
Katie: Yes! Can't you tell?
Patty and Maddie Bass
Patty: We came here from Austin to see Texas win! We've been fans since as long as she's been born.
Maddie: Longer than that!
Patty: This is our third final four. We're hoping to watch Texas win this time. I'm not sure if we would have made the trip if Texas wasn't here because it's expensive, but they are here and so are we! We got here late last night.
espnW: Do you play volleyball, Maddie?
Maddie: : Yes! I love playing with friends and it's just really fun. I'm 14 and most of my friends play.
espnW: What's your favorite part of the final four?
Patty: It's just exciting, the fans are so into it, and it's great volleyball. Even though Texas obviously won't be playing in the second game tonight, we'll stay and watch because it's just great competition and some of the best players in the country.
Maddie: : The teams that make it this far are just so good and it's such a big deal that they're here playing.
espnW: How many regular season games do you usually get to?
Patty: We're season ticket holders, and have been for four years, so we get to most home games.
espnW: How would you describe Longhorns fans?
Patty: We're the best fans, because we have the best team. Is that arrogant? That might be a little arrogant, but it's true!
Elizabeth, Ainslee and Ryan Stepp
Elizabeth: We're huge fans of KU volleyball! We've been fans for a long time.
Ryan: Huge KU fans in all sports, and volleyball in the last few years.
espnW: Do you both play volleyball?
Ainslee: Yeah! We both play for club teams in Kansas City, Missouri. We've gone to a lot of regular-season games this year. It would be really cool to see them win.
espnW: What's your favorite thing about Kansas volleyball?
Ainslee: Um ...
Ryan: They've done a lot of research on the players and where they've come from and how they got to this point.
espnW: Do you both want to play at Kansas one day?
Elizabeth: Yes. That would be cool.
Ryan: That would be cool.
espnW: What has been your favorite moment of the season so far?
Ryan: Well the regional game was amazing. Staying up until 1 a.m. watching the comeback against USC that was great.
Elizabeth: It was really exciting. I hope they do that again.