February 3, 2022

NCAA Women’s Volleyballers Rocked the Arena — and the Convention Center, and the Hilton Columbus Downtown

Photo Courtesy of Joe Maiorana/Experience Columbus


Columbus once again showed the world what a top-flight women’s athletic event looks like when the NCAA Women’s Volleyball National Championship came to town just before Christmas. 

The city had plenty of help from the players and fans, who provided two nights of electric competition and excitement through two semifinal matches on Dec. 17 and an unforgettable final on Dec. 19. After an epic, 5-set battle, including one that The Columbus Dispatch said “might have been the best set of college volleyball this season,” the Wisconsin Badgers claimed their first-ever title, defeating the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  

They did it in front of an NCAA record crowd of 18,755 in Nationwide Arena — evidence of the growing excitement around the premier women’s sports events for which Columbus is becoming known. 

“We’ve come by that reputation honestly,” said Linda Logan, executive director of the Greater Columbus Sports Commission (GCSC) and the driving force behind the city’s success in recent years with big events, both women’s and men’s. “It has evolved over time, as we’ve had some great champions in the area and done some marquee events.” 

The volleyball championship weekend, put together by GCSC, Nationwide Arena and Ohio State Athletics, brought an estimated $14 million in associated spending to the city. It is an NCAA follow-up to the women’s basketball Final Four in 2018, which had similar economic impact. The volleyball tournament also enjoyed high TV ratings, giving Columbus hours of valuable positive national exposure.  

The Ohio Valley region and the Big 10 overall are areas of strong volleyball support, according to Nationwide Arena General Manager Mike Gatto. The Ohio Valley Region of USA Volleyball, the sport’s governing body, has a membership of more than 25,000, which helped build grass-roots support for the event. 

And when those players and fans showed up, Logan’s team was prepared to show them an unforgettable experience. Athletes traveled around town in four charter buses custom-wrapped in each of the semifinal schools’ branding — a touch “that had the kids so, so excited,” Logan said. With COVID-19 concerns jeopardizing the ability to throw the traditional student-athlete banquet in a ballroom, the commission improvised, working with restaurateur Cameron Mitchell to provide separate venues for each team. 

To help fans far from home gather, each team was assigned a “home” bar in the Arena District. A student-athlete lounge featured stations at which women-owned local businesses provided opportunities to sample Columbus’ best, such as a candle-making activity. (Yes, there was Jeni’s.)  

Through it all, visitors enjoyed everything the CFA touts in its sales pitches: top-notch venues in easy walking distance of each other as well as excellent hotels and countless restaurants, bars and entertainment venues. With the American Volleyball Coaches Association holding its national convention at the Convention Center over the weekend, all three CFA facilities — the arena, GCCC and the Hilton — were in play.  

Gatto is confident it wasn’t the last such success. “It was just a fun weekend — a big party,” he said. “It’s a really exciting sport and it’s growing. I’d be disappointed if we don’t see the championships back here in Columbus.” 

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