Wichita will be the only place in America to catch the United States women’s volleyball team before they head to Tokyo for the Olympic Games next summer.
Visit Wichita announced Wednesday that Wichita State University has been selected as Team USA’s host for the prestigious Volleyball Nations League, a five-week, 16-team round-robin international tournament that teams will use to ramp up for the 2020 Olympic Games.
The U.S. women’s volleyball team, which has won the last two VNL championships and the $1 million prize, will play Belgium, Japan and Turkey on three consecutive nights, June 9-11 at Wichita State’s Koch Arena. WSU is selling all-session tickets at GoShockers.com, ranging from $50 to $100.
“It’s a rare opportunity and a great way to support our girls because they work really hard,” said Team USA assistant coach Tama Miyashiro, who was at the news conference in Wichita. “You’re going to see a lot of good volleyball on those three days. Our country loves the Olympics and it’s a great way to send our girls off, and for us to feel the support of our fans because we don’t get that chance very often.”
Another ‘win’ for Wichita creating snowball effect
At the beginning of 2018, Visit Wichita’s brain trust met and left motivated to attract some of the biggest sporting events in the country.
In evaluating opportunities, Visit Wichita president Susie Santo said three questions need a yes answer: Will the event make Wichita money? Will it bring national exposure? And will it be an amenity to Wichita?
“It’s just like businesses around the community when they look at how do you attract talent to Wichita and how do you retain talent?” Santo said. “When people are deciding where they want to live, they want cool things to do and a lot of times that can be sporting events. If you can bring high-caliber sporting events to your city, then you can really make your community look that much more attractive.”
Bringing Team USA in an Olympic year — much less right before the Olympics — as the team’s only stop in the country is projected to draw attendance from the region. According to Visit Wichita, the three-day tournament is projected to generate more than $1 million in the local economy.
In the bid process, Visit Wichita pointed to Wichita’s success hosting NCAA basketball tournament games and the record attendance during The Basketball Tournament this past summer at WSU. Wichita State has also ranked in the top 25 in women’s volleyball attendance for 14 straight seasons.
“We started this vision about a year and a half ago and it really has kind of snowballed,” said Brian Hargrove, Visit Wichita’s executive director of sports development. “When we bring those wins to the city, they’re very successful. Then people across the country hear about them, rights holders, governing bodies, and they’re like, ‘Hey, we need to look at Wichita. We need to make sure Wichita is on our radar for our next event.’
“I think (USA volleyball) was really impressed by what we’ve done and thought they needed to go back to Wichita and take advantage of this sports momentum that we have right now.”
WSU volleyball coach Chris Lamb was on hand for the announcement and said an event like this can be monumental for the Wichita volleyball community.
“I’m one of the more excited people here as maybe Wichita’s No. 1 volleyball fan,” Lamb said. “I’m going to be going to every club volleyball team in the region to make sure all of the young volleyball girls are going to be here for this. And the fact that it’s an Olympic year just raises the ante.”
While the roster of 14 that plays in Wichita might not be the exact roster that competes in Tokyo, Miyashiro said that the majority of the players will make the Olympic roster. Because all of USA’s top players are currently playing professionally overseas, the roster won’t be finalized until May when VNL play begins.
Wichita will watch Week 4 of VNL play, which U.S. national team coach Karch Kiraly said “will be a huge one.”
“We will be approaching it as one of our last chances to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics,” Kiraly said in a statement. “It will be one of the rare opportunities for Americans to cheer on their Olympic women’s volleyball representatives live and in person, so we’re looking forward to an amazing atmosphere in Wichita.”
Team USA will play Belgium on Tuesday, June 9; Japan on Wednesday, June 10; and Turkey on Thursday, June 11. All matches will start at 7:30 p.m. The U.S. team is ranked No. 2 in the world, while Japan is ranked No. 7, Turkey is No. 12 and Belgium is No. 19. Team USA and Japan have both already qualified for the Olympics, while Turkey and Belgium will have a chance to qualify in January.
Other stops for the U.S. team during VNL play include Brazil, Serbia, Germany and China. The top five teams from the preliminary matches advance to join host China for the VNL Finals on July 1-5.