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Hometown Hopefuls: Justine Wong-Orantes, Nebraska

Throughout the summer, in a series called Hometown Hopefuls, NBC is spotlighting the stories of Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls from all fifty states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, as they work towards the opportunity to represent their country at the Paris 2024 Games next year. We’ll learn about their paths to their sports’ biggest stage, and the towns and communities that have been formative along the way. Visit for more stories from across America as these Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls prepare for Paris in summer 2024.

Later this year, the University of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium will welcome fans to a sold-out sporting event, but instead of football, it will be women’s volleyball on display. The Huskers will face off against the squad from Nebraska-Omaha on “Volleyball Day in Nebraska,” set for August 30. The match sold out the 82,900-seat stadium within 48 hours of tickets becoming available, setting the event up to break the NCAA attendance record for a volleyball match, which currently is 18,755.

Nebraska’s volleyball fervor was crucial for Olympic gold medalist Justine Wong-Orantes, who in 2013 was a freshman trying to find her self-confidence in a new environment while learning a new position on the court. Wong-Orantes played setter for most of her young life, but at 5-foot-6 was often considered too short to play setter in college. So when she was recruited by Nebraska’s then-assistant coach Dan Meske, it was to play libero.

“I wasn’t fully confident because I was now switching positions and I felt like I was playing catch up,” Wong-Orantes remembers. “My freshman year of Nebraska was a little shaky in terms of my mindset and just like the belief in myself.”

Where Wong-Orantes lacked belief, head coach John Cook had confidence in her and a demanding practice structure to bring out the best in his team. “The culture that John had set was tremendous,” Wong-Orantes says. “I think that’s what set me up for success transitioning from college to national team.”

Wong-Orantes grew up playing indoor and beach volleyball in California, where her parents had met in a volleyball league and passed on their love for the game to their children.

But it was on the Nebraska campus that she began accessing her true potential. She won a national title in 2015, was a first-team All-American in 2016, and left as the school’s all-time career digs leader. What stays with her, though, is the support she felt from the Huskers community.

“To have that type of collegiate experience, I feel like just opened my eyes,” she said. “The fans are fully invested in you. And I’m so thankful for that experience because I think that’s what volleyball deserves.”

Now back in southern California with an Olympic gold medal in tow, the 27-year-old is training and playing on the national team with hopes of becoming a back-to-back Olympic champion in Paris next summer.

“We did win the gold medal last quad, but it’s a completely different team and so we have an opportunity to write our own story and just do some really cool things as this new unit.”

The U.S. team is set to play this week in Arlington, Texas, at the women’s Volleyball Nations League Final, which starts on Wednesday. Wong-Orantes leads the team in digs through the tournament so far this summer.

As she continues finding success with new units – both on Team USA and playing professionally overseas – she thinks of her accomplishments as flowers on the stem of her collegiate years. “All of [it] has been a reflection of Nebraska.”