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Omaha Magazine

In Volleyball-Crazed Nebraska, A Pair Of Supernovas With Omaha Roots Blaze The Sport's Next Evolution

Dec 21, 2023 12:44PM ● By Leo Adam Biga
sports supernovas january february 2024

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

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Just when it seemed like volleyball couldn’t get any bigger in Nebraska, Volleyball Day at UNL’s Memorial Stadium on August 30 last summer set the world’s record for attendance at a women’s athletic event with a whopping 92,003 people turning out to cheer for the athletes. In the lead up, Omaha became home to two pro volleyball franchises. The first, Nebraska Pro Volleyball, competes as the Omaha Supernovas in the new Pro Volleyball Federation. The second team, LOVB Omaha Volleyball, debuts in fall 2025 as part of League One Volleyball. 

The sport’s local roots are so deep that two key Supernovas, Gina Mancuso-Prososki and Natalia Valentín-Anderson, already called Omaha home before joining the club. 

The fanbase for volleyball is so large that season ticket sales went like hot cakes.

Head coach Shelton Collier is impressed by the high level play and support volleyball enjoys here at club, high school, and collegiate levels.

“We will be communicating to our players that we have a responsibility to represent all these people that have done so well for so many years,” he said. 

Mancuso-Prososki, a metro area native, contributed to two home-grown dynasties–Papillion LaVista High School and the University of Nebraska–that older sister Dani Mancuso contributed to before her. Both went on to play professionally overseas.

Valentín-Anderson, a Puerto Rico native, enjoyed a standout career at Florida International University. Her pro career was interrupted only by captaining the Puerto Rico National Team in the 2016 Rio Olympics. She and her husband own IG Sports Academy in Omaha.

Mancuso-Prososki and Valentín-Anderson were teammates before as pros–the first time a decade ago. The good friends’ sometimes divergent playing paths often separated them. The Supernovas represent a rare chance to compete together for a hometown team. 

“Here we are playing for the city we now both call home,” Mancuso-Prososki said. “It’s just kind of unheard of. It’s been a beautiful friendship, and it’s still continuing to blossom throughout this new experience.” 

“I didn’t think it could blossom more until Supernovas came along, and now it’s like, ‘Wow, we’re really doing this together,’” Valentín-Anderson added. “This is awesome.”

The team is leaning on the duo’s charisma, energy, Omaha ties, and experience as the faces of the franchise.

“On and off the court, there’re just not two better players to have as franchise players,” Collier remarked. “We were so fortunate to have two right in our backyard. That’s really special. Their impact in the community is incredible.” 

It’s a full circle moment for Mancuso-Prososki as well as team president Diane Mendenhall, who helped lay the sport’s foundation in Nebraska five decades ago. The Ogallala native has seen participation, attendance, and skill grow nationally—but nowhere more than here. 

“What we do in Nebraska is we come together, and we make things great,” Mendenhall said. “The passion and embrace for volleyball here is border to border.” 

She appreciates having a world-class setter in Valentín-Anderson and an elite outside hitter in Mancuso-Prososki as catalysts for this latest evolution that quickly caught fire.

“We’ve made it very clear we live for volleyball in this state. It’s in our blood,” Mancuso-Prososki observed. “We have the best fans in the entire world. They show up, they show out.”

Valentín-Anderson agreed, adding, “The best thing you can feel when you go to the court is when you feel supported.”

They even felt the love and anticipation during preseason meet and greets.

“The Nebraska volleyball season ends in December, and ours starts shortly after that,” Mancuso-Prososki said, “so, it’s a perfect time for us to fill that void.”

Coach Collier knows he’s in the sport’s epicenter. “Nebraska’s been breaking ground in volleyball for years. It’s been such a key element in developing the sport, and now Omaha can be part of that legacy,” he said.

“People here want to be part of record-setting crowds for professional women’s volleyball, and that’s exciting.” 

The team’s goal is winning the inaugural league title—and the $1-million bonus that comes with it.

The sport’s growth has attracted big name investors and bucks for both leagues, because pro volleyball is seen as the sport’s next logical step.

“Definitely it’s a no-brainer,” Mancuso-Prososki said. “We not only believe the Supernovas will succeed but also the league. The way they have it built with local ownership is very sustainable. We plan on being here for the long haul.”

Only last year, Valentín-Anderson contemplated retiring before the Supernova offer came along. 

“My husband wanted me to be home more. It’s really hard traveling internationally, having to leave family and friends,” she shared. “I knew at some point I would need to choose, but the fact that I don’t need to choose anymore blows my mind.”

This opportunity comes as both players are in, Mancuso-Prososki observed, “the same season of life” with the desire to be mothers. They look forward to building something they can share with their kids and to say they were part of that first Supernovas team. “It gives me goosebumps every time I think about it,” Valentín-Anderson admitted.

“The coolest thing in all of this,” Mancuso-Prososki shared, “is that Natalia and I are among the trailblazers. My time at Papillion and Nebraska was amazing. I’m very proud to be a part of those legacies. The Supernovas is our time for a new legacy.”

Besides, she added, “It’s not like we’re getting younger.”

Knowing this could be their last go-round, Mancuso-Prososki said, “We don’t want to rush this time. We’re very excited, but at the same time, we need to soak it up moment by moment because it’s going to go by so fast.” 

Valentín-Anderson feels the same. “We do not want to miss out or feel like we should have done more. For sure, we are not taking it for granted.”

The players use their platform to spread the volleyball gospel. “A message we are sending when we go talk to girls on club or high school teams is that absolutely this could be you some day,” Mancuso-Prososki said. “We want them to believe that because if that’s what they want, they need to start dreaming it now. It’s definitely achievable.”

A message she has for anyone on the fence: “Invest in this team and get in on the excitement, otherwise you’re going to regret it. Come see us and you’re going to want to come back.” 

For more information about the Omaha Supernovas, visit supernovas.com.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Omaha Magazine. To subscribe, click here. 

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

 

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