Alan VanCura was one of Nebraska’s most successful high school volleyball coaches. He led Hastings St. Cecilia to 830 victories in 41 years before retiring in 2016. During his tenure, the Hawkettes won six state championships and 19 district championships. A coach with a calm demeanor who rarely raised his voice, he dedicated his time and energy for the good of the students. His teams built their success on solid fundamentals, great team defense and the maximum use of each player’s talent. As the girls track coach for 36 years, plus three as boys coach, he led teams to 17 district titles, three state runner-up finishes and the 1980 Class C title.

Julie Vollertsen Melli – Palmyra

Athlete— Small town girl reaches big time athletic success is the story of this talented 1977 graduate of Palmyra High School. During the 1976-77 high school season, she reached all-state status while wearing the red, white and blue of the Palmyra Panthers. Her drive to play this game soon carried her to the national scene. She went straight from high school to the world stage with the U.S. national volleyball program (first on the Junior National Team and then the National Team) and tryouts for the 1980 US Olympic Team (chosen alternate in a year when the US boycotted the Games). By 1984, she made the Olympic squad and was a hitter for the silver medal-winning US team in the Los Angeles Games.  She played professional volleyball in Italy for several years, then coached the sport,  and made her home abroad in Reggio Emilia, a small city in northern Italy.


Journal Star, Lincoln, 1984 art & 2012 story

PALMYRA — It’s nice to be home, Julie Vollertsen said, though it’s hard to call it that anymore.

At this point, she’s lived in Italy longer than she ever lived in Palmyra — or in the United States for that matter.

But the small town always will be the place where she played her first games of volleyball and pushed Palmyra High School to its first appearance at the state tournament in 1976, securing herself a spot on the all-state team.

It’s where she began her path to the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame, Sports Illustrated’s 50 Greatest Nebraska Athletes list and an Olympic silver medal.

Vollertsen doesn’t think of it that way. It’s where her family is and where she’s spent the last week visiting.

She acknowledges a lot has changed since she graduated high school here more than 30 years ago, but she says her Olympic story truly began with a tryout for the women’s junior national volleyball team in California.

“It was a six-week tryout,” she said. “There were girls from all around the country, but I was the only one who ended up staying on the team.”

From there, she trained vigorously and worked her way up to the women’s national team, chosen first as an alternate for the 1980 Olympic Games, then chosen for the team that went on to snag a bronze medal in the 1982 World Championships.

All the while, Vollertsen and her teammates had their eyes on the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, where they knew they were making their way into uncharted territory.

Both the U.S. men’s and women’s teams failed to qualify for the 1972 or the 1976 Games, and neither team competed in the 1980 Games in Moscow because of the boycott.

“We had nothing to compare ourselves to,” she said. “We were the first team in years that could actually represent the United States and possibly win a medal.”

Alongside setter Debbie Green and spiker Flo Hyman, Vollertsen and the 1984 women’s national team went on to secure the silver medal, the team’s first in the Olympic Games.

Within a year, she had moved to Italy, where she played professionally and settled in a city called Reggio Emilia.

That’s when she first met local television journalist Lepoldo Melli, who invited Vollertsen on his show.

“He interviewed athletes and would commentate on local sports,” she said. “I was on there with a champion weightlifter, and he interviewed us back and forth.”

But Reggio Emilia is a small city, she said, and it wasn’t long until they met again and started dating.

Three years later, in 1989, they married.

Then, after four years in the professional league, Vollertsen retired and began to coach.

It was when she had her first son, Nicolo, in 1991, that she came to a crossroads.

“I had to make a choice: either family or coaching,” she said. “I chose family.”

It was the right one, she said. Nicolo, now 21 and nearly 6-foot-11, plays basketball professionally for Olimpia Milano and has his own Olympic dream as a member of the Italian national team. (Italy did not qualify for the London Games.) Her younger son, Enrico, 16, also is a rising basketball star.

“They are both amazing at what they do,” she said.

Much of her time is spent traveling to her sons’ basketball games with Lepoldo, who now is a corporate lawyer. She’s largely left the volleyball world behind.

“It’s a whole different game nowadays,” she said. “The quality of athletes is much higher.”’

The rules have changed, too. In the 80s, players couldn’t touch the net, there was no libero and the serve was just a way to get the play started, not an attack.

“We had to be more all-around players,” she said. “Now, it’s adapted for international play and has a little more variety. People can specialize in blocking or defense.”

A lot changed back home, too. When she graduated high school and began playing for the national team more than 30 years ago, the Husker volleyball program was just getting its feet off the ground, she said.

Nowadays, it produces some of the best athletes around — including Jordan Larson, the 6-foot-2 outside hitter competing in the 2012 London Olympic Games with the women’s national team.

Like Vollertsen, Larson grew up in a small Nebraska town.

“I’m so impressed by Larson,” she said. “It’s super to see her out there.”

Vollertsen does get a reminder of her Olympic experience nearly every time she watches volleyball: her coaches and many of her teammates coach at universities across the country.

“I think over the time we trained together, we gained a lot of knowledge about the game,” she said. “It was an incredible experience.”

Arthur Vance – Hardy

Athlete–Along the southern border of Nebraska in Webster and Nuckolls Counties once existed Cowles High School and Hardy High School. One exposed to this early 20th century secondary education was a late blooming great baseball pitcher, Dazzy Vance. Arm troubles hampered his rise until his early thirties when he started in 1922 with the major league Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1924 he was named the most valuable player in the National League, winning 28 games as a pitcher. Later he was also a member of the 1934 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals “Gashouse Gang.” Vance told media covering major league baseball about his nickname. “It had nothing to do with ‘dazzling speed’ as most fans believe. Back in Nebraska where I grew up, I knew a cowboy who, when he saw a horse, a gun or a dog that he liked, would say ‘Ain’t that a daisy,’ only he would pronounce ‘daisy’ as ‘dazzy.’ I got to saying, ‘Ain’t that a dazzy,’ and before I was 11 years old, the nickname was tacked on me.” Elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1955, this talented Nebraskan deserved not to be forgotten.


Vance led the National League in strikeouts seven year in a row. He led the league in shutouts four times, in earned run average three times and won 20 or more games three different years.

One of the best pitchers in baseball during the 1920s, Vance toiled for poor Brooklyn teams much of his career. Yet he still won 197 games, and the first NL MVP award.
Played For  New York Yankees (1915, 1918), Pittsburgh Pirates (1915), Brooklyn Dodgers (1922-1932, 1935), St. Louis Cardinals (1933-1934), Cincinnati Reds (1935)


1934 World Series


MVP 1924

Stats–Career stats from


Won the Triple Crown for pitching in 1924 with 28 wins, a 2.16 ERA, and 262 strikeouts.

Best Season, 1924

Vance didn’t win his first game in the majors until after his 31st birthday – yet he went on to 197 wins, a no-hitter, and an MVP award. Vance won the initial NL MVP Award in 1924, leading the NL with 28 victories, 305 complete games, 262 strikeouts, and a 2.16 ERA. He outpolled Rogers Hornsby, who that year had set a major league record with a .424 batting average, because one voter failed to place the latter on the ballot. Vance used the award to negotiate a highly publicized three-year contract worth $47,500 from Brooklyn owner Charles Ebbets.

Vance began his professional career in 1912, but struggled with his control  and a sore arm until breaking through in the majors in 1922.

In 1922, Vance went 18-12, led the National League with 134 strikeouts and tied for the league lead with five shutouts.

1924 would see him second to no one: He compiled a 28-6 record, winning 15 in a row in one stretch, posted a 2.16 ERA and struck out an impressive 262 batters, earning pitching’s triple crown and the first MVP Award given by the National League. His 262 strikeouts were the most by an NL pitcher since Christy Mathewson fanned 267 in 1903 and would remain unsurpassed until Sandy Koufax struck out 269 in 1961.  No pitcher in history can claim such strikeout dominance. In fact, he was so dominant that he edged St. Louis second baseman Rogers Hornsby for the Most Valuable Player award, despite Hornsby’s .424 batting average-a 20th century record.

After three stellar seasons in the big leagues, Vance held out for more money and finally signed a three-year deal worth $47,500 in mid-March of 1925.  He rewarded Brooklyn by pacing the NL with 22 victories, 221 strikeouts and four shutouts in 1925. He struck out a career-high 17 batters against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 20 and no-hit the Philadelphia Phillies on September 13.

1928 would prove to be Vance’s last great all-around season and would usher in one last hurrah for his strikeout dominance. He went 22-10 with a league-leading 2.09 ERA, four shutouts and 200 strikeouts.

His run was coming to an end but Vance was earning the highest paycheck in baseball among pitchers, pocketing $20,000 in 1928 and $25,000 in 1929 when he won 14 games and struck out only 126 batters. It would be the first time he hadn’t won the strikeout crown in eight years.

He won his third ERA title in 1930, posting a 2.61 mark, which was an incredible 2.36 runs lower than the league average and more than a run lower than runner-up Carl Hubbell, who fashioned a 3.71 ERA for the New York Giants.

Vance made his only World Series appearance with the “Gashouse Gang” Cardinals in 1934, pitching alongside Dizzy and Daffy Dean. The 43-year-old threw an inning and a third of shutout ball for the Cardinals in Game 4-three of the four outs he recorded were strikeouts-to earn a World Series ring.

After brief stints with St. Louis and Cincinnati, Vance ended his career back in Brooklyn, to finish with a record of 197-140. He posted a 3.24 career ERA, struck out 2,045 batters in 2,967 innings and, amazingly, walked only 840 batters. 

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1955. He died of a heart attack on February 16, 1961, two weeks shy of his 70th birthday.

Bill Vincent – Omaha South

Athlete.  The ability to play under pressure while a student at Omaha South High School was an attribute helping this tall basketball player reach all-state status his junior and senior years. In 1960 at the state tournament in the old coliseum in Lincoln when the chips were down and a fine team from Alliance had the crowd rooting for the underdog, Bill Vincent came through for the favored Packers with one of his patented hook shots to ice the game in the last seconds leading to the Class A State Basketball Championship for South. This particular team from Omaha South High, with Vincent leading the way, was the only unbeaten Class A basketball team for a period of 28 years.

Died in an accident when a junior in college (Nebraska).


World-Herald Photo.

Trudi Veerhusen Nolin – Adams

Athlete. Trudi (Veerhusen) Nolin was pretty much an “All Everything” athlete at Adams High School, three-sport athlete and a total of 12 varsity letters.  She started every one of 100 total games in basketball that had a team record of 96-4.  Two of those losses were in state tournament competition when Adams lost the semifinal game in 1984 and the championship game in 1986.  They were State Champions in ’85 and ’87.  Three-time All State in basketball.  Class D1 All State three years by both Metro newspapers, Class D1 All State captain two years, Class D1 State All Tourney team four years, All Class State All-Tourney team three years and Super State First Team by the World Herald her senior year. Trudi set three school records for Adams, career scoring (1,678), most points in one season (579), and most points in one game (43).  She also holds state tournament records for single game scoring 40 (tied all class record), all class points in the state tournament for one year (94), and was the all-time career state tournament scoring leader with 261 points. Trudi was selected National High School All-American Honorable Mention in 1987 and  that just covered basketball.   She was All Conference and All State honorable mention in volleyball plus holding school records in the 100 meter and 300 meter hurdles in track.  She went on play for Doane College and started every one of the 134 games played during her four years there.  Top honors at Doane included twice All Conference second team, twice All Conference first team, twice State College first team, State College Athlete of the Year (1990-91), All American Third Team in 1990-91.  On the Doane College school record board no less than 15 times and District 11 four times.  Teaches mathematics and assists in basketball and coaches freshman volleyball at Omaha Westside High School.

Larry Vlasin – Madrid

Athlete.  1965 grad.

The first Class D athlete named the Lincoln Journal Star’s Athlete of the Year, Larry Vlasin earned allstate honors playing for Madrid’s undefeated eight-man football teams of 1963 and ’64. He set the national eight-man rushing record averaging 338.9 yards per game. He also earned all-state honors in basketball his junior and senior years and qualified for the state track meet in four events, placing third in the pole vault. He finished his basketball career with 1,895 points and scored 55 points in one game in 1965. A 5-10 outside shooter, many of his baskets came from what would later become 3-point range. An outstanding infielder in baseball, he was drafted by the Kansas City Athletics in the 1965 baseball draft. He played minor league baseball, rising to the Double-A level.



BY RYLY JANE HAMBLETON / Lincoln Journal Star — Saturday, Sep 27, 2008 – 11:59:12 pm CDT
Larry Vlasin’s dad knew the best way to help his son eliminate aches and pains the morning after a strenuous football game: Back to work!

“Sure, you’d be sore on Saturdays after a game, but I grew up on a farm. We always got back to work on Saturday morning,” Vlasin said. “We’d haul bales and work around the farm. You lose the soreness by going back out and working.” 

It’s no wonder Vlasin (pronounced Vla-SHEEN) would be a bit sore. He averaged 338.9 total yards per game, still the national eight-man record, while helping Madrid to back-to-back undefeated seasons in 1963 and ’64.

After a basketball season during which he averaged 26.9 points and 12 assists per game, he qualified for four events at the state track meet. Those performances were enough to earn him the Journal Star athlete of the year award in 1965, the first time an athlete from a Class D school was honored.

 “I played quarterback, so that total was rushing, passing and my punt returns and kick returns,” said Vlasin, now a stockbroker in McCook. “I also played safety. I guess I just never left the field, because I kicked off and kicked extra points and a few field goals.”

Vlasin said he faced a dilemma when he graduated from high school.  “Joe Cipriano and Tony Sharpe offered me a half baseball and half basketball scholarship to Nebraska, so I had to decide between that and professional baseball,” he said. “Kansas City offered a pretty good bonus, which paid for my college education.”  Vlasin signed with the Kansas City Athletics.

“A couple of years later, they moved to Oakland. I played five years of minor-league ball and got as high as double-A with a triple-A contract in hand,” Vlasin said. “But with the Vietnam War heating up, I though I would have to go into the service. So I went to college at Chadron State and then got married. Since I’d signed a pro contract, I couldn’t be in sports in college.”

He coached football, basketball and track at Culbertson, Cozad and Gordon before finishing his coaching career as the head basketball coach at McCook.  “I don’t think the kids today need advice from me. Things are so different. The kids are so much bigger and stronger,” he said. “But I guess if I told them anything, it would be to go to a college where you can play and get a good education.”

Brad Vering – Howells

2011 InducteeClass of 1996
Brad Vering’s road to the Olympics took off while winning three state championships at the Nebraska High School Wrestling Championships. Wrestling for the Howells Bobcats, Vering set a state record with 10 state tournament pins. He finished third as a freshman before ascending to the gold-medal level, finishing his high school career with a 148-2 record. At the University of Nebraska, he won the NCAA national championship in 2000, earned All-American honors three times and was a two-time Big 12 Conference champion. In international competition, he found his niche in Greco-Roman wrestling.  He represented the United States in the Olympic Games in 2004 in Greece and in 2008 in Beijing. He won the U.S. Nationals in 2004, 2005 and 2007 and was the Pan Am Games gold medalist in 2007. He was a silver medalist at the World Games in 2007 and a finalist for the AAU’s Sullivan Award for outstanding amateur athlete in 2008.

Mathias “Mutt” Volz – Lincoln

2011 InducteeOfficial

Mathias “Mutt” Volz’s career as an official and an evaluator lasted 60 years, from high schools to colleges and in football and basketball. An all-state athlete at Omaha South, and a letterman in basketball and baseball, Volz began his officiating career in high schools and the Missouri Valley Conference. He worked many big games, including the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl, but continued to work high school games in Lincoln. Years later, he confined his officiating to the Big Six, which later became the Big Eight. He retired from the field in 1964, but was appointed by the league to observe and review officials, a duty he performed until 1990.

Dave Van Metre – Omaha


A former Colorado College football player from Mount Vernon, Iowa, Dave Van Metre was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams. After injuries ended his professional football career, he went into private business and has generously lended a hand to schools in Omaha and his native Mount Vernon. He has provided new weight training and cardio equipment to the Omaha School District’s seven high schools and 11 middle schools and to the city’s Boys & Girls Clubs. He also has spearheaded fundraising efforts for three high school stadiums and a number of baseball and softball fields. He has served on the board of directors of several Omaha foundations and has been honored by several schools for his assistance and support.