Jerritt Elliott dreams of setting attendance records with Texas volleyball

Katie Borchetta, Sports Reporter

Jerritt Elliott has big dreams for volleyball in the state of Texas.

The head coach of No. 1 Texas volleyball talked about a grand vision, not only for his Longhorns, but also for the growth of the sport as a whole at a Sept. 19 press conference. His dreams included setting attendance records and building a passionate audience for volleyball throughout the state.

“I think the sport is so big in the state of Texas that we can really push the envelope and show people how great it is,” Elliott said.

More and more fans are tuning in to watch the Longhorns, so much so according to Elliott that Texas’ first conference game against Kansas on Sept. 21 was moved from ESPNU to ESPN2, an indication that demand for volleyball is growing. In addition, Texas’ upcoming match at Texas Tech on Sunday will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.

“People around the country are starting to realize how athletic our women are, how fun the game is,” Elliott said. “It’s completely different watching it on TV than it is live in person, and I think the word-of-mouth marketing has done a really good job.”

Statistics show that Elliott is not wrong. Volleyball is the fastest-growing sport in North America and has expanded rapidly in the past 10 years.

Nowhere has volleyball’s rise in popularity been more clear than in the fan attendance numbers at universities across the country. On Sept. 7, in-state rivals Creighton and Nebraska faced off at CHI Health Center in Omaha, and the match set the regular season NCAA volleyball attendance record with 15,797 fans in the stands. Not to be outdone, Wisconsin hosted Florida nine days later in the Kohl Center, where the Badgers’ men’s basketball team normally plays, and reset the bar with an attendance of 16,833.

Elliott thinks the Longhorns can accomplish something similar in Texas. 

When Texas played Minnesota on Aug. 31, 4,492 fans showed out in Gregory Gym to support the Longhorns, the second-highest attendance in the gym’s storied history. Last year, Texas hosted Nebraska in the NCAA Tournament and packed 5,080 fans into the small gym.  

The biggest thing standing in Texas’ way of reaching the milestones that have been set this year is Gregory Gym’s limited capacity. It simply can’t hold that many people with a listed capacity of just 4,000, meaning that the previous attendance records for the gym created over-capacity situations.

Back in 1996, Texas hosted a volleyball match against Nebraska in the Frank Erwin Center and created the largest fan attendance in school history at 6,385. During the 2020 season, the team played its home games in the Erwin Center because of the pandemic, but social distancing protocols prevented the Longhorns from hosting large crowds in the arena. 

With the Frank Erwin Center now being replaced by the Moody Center, Elliott made it a goal to play future games in the new arena to allow more Texas students and fans to show their support for the volleyball team.

Even still, the Moody Center has a listed capacity of about 15,000 for concerts and about 10,000 for basketball games, so Elliott has his sights set on even bigger options to break the record. He floated the idea of Texas facing Oklahoma at the American Airlines Arena or Globe Life Field in Dallas the night before the Longhorns and Sooners play their annual football rivalry game at the Cotton Bowl.

“We’ve already been talking about it,” Elliott said. “We’re looking to see how big we can get it.”