In almost 25 years of coaching in the Big Ten, Coach Mike Hebert finds ways to keep life on the road interesting by asking his rookie volunteer coach (me) their favorite Big Ten Volleyball Arenas. So here is my rank of the Big Ten Volleyball Arenas:
Maybe I’m a little biased, but the Minnesota Sports Pavilion is at the top of my list. This a great arena for a spectator and a great place to play/coach a match. Even though the ceiling is a thousand feet high, there is still an intimate and personal feel. Even the seats in the upper deck have a great view.
The Minnesota fan base provides incredible support and is consistently in the top five in attendance. When then #4 Cal came into town, the “Pav” was packed and electric. They certainly helped Minnesota to beat Cal in three straight sets. And when Penn State made their annual visit, we had over 10,000 fans in the adjacent Williams Arena (all part of the same building).
There is also the Gold Diggers Booster Club that fills up the club room overlooking the court, and the Team Room and Coaches Room (redesigned with funding from the Bachman family) is second to none. It is a very special place to play.
The enormous building (the combined Sports Pavilion and Williams Arena) was originally built as an indoor football practice facility; thus the incredibly high ceiling. We attempted on a few occassions to punt a ball to the ceiling, but not a chance of reaching the ceiling. When the building was split, the volleyball portion, now called the Sports Pavilion, was the original ice hockey stadium. Volleyball moved into the Pav after the hockey stadiums were built (yes plural, as there are a separate men’s and women’s ice hockey arenas at Minnesota). I bet the football team would like to have the indoor facility back for themselves again.
The Fieldhouse is an old building that is a great venue for a volleyball match. The place, originally knicknamed “The Barn” has a history about it that includes boxing greats. Rumor has it that Cassius Clay fought there in his early days. There is plenty of room around the court for players to chase down balls, and the fans offer great support. During the grueling 5 set match when Minnesota visited Wisconsin, I think the fans were as exhausted as the players when it was over. That was one of the best matches I have ever been a part with the scores: 18-25, 25-18, 25-27, 31-29, 19-17. Those last three sets were awesome with Minnesota winning! Wisconsin certainly has a home court advantage at the Fieldhouse.
I’m one for tradition and old school buildings. Huff Hall reminded me of my high school gymnasium at New Trier High School in Winnetka, IL. It’s tough for a Chicago-guy to rank an Illinois arena below Wisconsin’s, but the biggest drawback to me was the lack of playing space surrounding the court. The outside hitters on the side adjacent to the bench could potentially be tripped up by the feet of fans. Otherwise, the coziness of the old school building certainly has its appeal.
This place is enormous and I believe it is the largest gym in the Big Ten. I climbed the steps to the top of the arena and felt as if I was a mile from the court. I assume it was the old basketball arena, but I like the potential of that place being filled up for volleyball. It would be great for volleyball to have that type of support. One day it will.
Penn State’s Rec Hall is a mix of old and new. Penn State has done a nice job renovating the old building to make the arena feel new. I can’t say the visiting team locker room or the surrounding areas of the arena have been renovated (although I assume the Penn State’s locker room is quite nice), but overall its a nice venue with a solid fan base.
This is one of the new facilities in the Big Ten. These new facilities feel like a high school gymnasium, but it is nice that they are a volleyball only facility. Just not much tradition or history to them. I will admit the fan support at Purdue was good the night Minnesota came in town, but it seems as if fan support at most stadiums that Minnesota visited was impressive.
This was actually the first place I ever saw a volleyball match as I grew up not far from Evanston, IL. I was really young and believe the USA Women were playing the Russian Team. It is a converted field house and I believe it is a volleyball only facilty, but it just has a choppy feel to it. Nothing smooth or consistent with the court layout, ceiling, seating, etc. I can’t put my finger on why its #8 on my list, it just didn’t do it for me. Maybe it was because Northwestern had a slumber party with the Northwestern players and all the kids that attended the match. It was a great draw for the match, but the high pitched screaching between points was deafening.
It’s the old school feel that I go for and the field house has been converted (in part) into a volleyball facility. The volleyball floor sits atop an indoor track and there are portable bleachers. The worst is the portable net standards that jut out into the landing area of a slide hitter. There is just no flow or consistency with the arena.
This is another new facility, very similar to Purdue’s IAF, but a little smaller. It is also located away from the main part of campus and seems to be part of an old converted junior high school. In addition, the ceiling height is not high and occassionally comes into play. Again, there just isn’t much tradition or history to a place like this.
Carver Arena is also where basketball plays and is a large stadium, but the volleyball is squeezed onto one of the ends of the basketball court. The volleyball court is then sectioned off with a large black canopy held up by poles. Unfortunately, these poles aren’t too sturdy, as they fell upon our bench during the match. I just didn’t get overall great feel in the arena.
This was my least favorite of the arenas. Maybe its because Minnesota didn’t play a good match there, but the court feels like you are in a pit. The court is surrounded by elevated seating on two sides and then there is a wall that the benches back up to. The ceiling is low which can come into play. I heard the gym sits atop an old pool which gives an allusion of a hollow floor. I just didn’t get that warm and cozy feeling in the gym, probably what makes for a good home court advantage.