Aug 21, 2023 Updated Aug 21, 2023
The anticipation for Friday night would be there anyway.
Opening up a remodeled Convocation Center only adds to the excitement for the James Madison volleyball season when the reigning Sun Belt Conference champion Dukes begin the season against High Point.
JMU, even before moving from Godwin Hall to the Convocation Center, was already one of six schools in the 14-team Sun Belt that didn’t share its volleyball court with men’s and women’s basketball teams. That’s an advantage JMU rode to a 24-5 finish and 15-1 record in the conference play last season.
Now, after JMU transformed its former basketball arena into a new athletic department hub that houses offices for multiple sports and indoor track facilities with the state-of-the-art volleyball court at the center, the Dukes’ advantage is growing even larger.
“It is everything you could imagine,” JMU head coach Lauren Steinbrecher said. “It surpassed my expectations. It’s beautiful and very well done. Everything you could ever need for a Division I athlete and more.”
Other Sun Belt powers, such as Coastal Carolina and Texas State, are forced to work around basketball programs as they share the court in the campus’ main arena.
Southern Miss doesn’t share its relatively new and luxurious volleyball facility with the Eagles basketball squads, but now has it opened to the general public as a wellness center after it came to light state welfare funds were misspent to build it.
Even in previous seasons, while JMU wasn’t battling basketball Dukes for court time, the nets at Godwin Hall often came down while the building was used for physical education courses or intramural contests.
Now the volleyball nets in the Convo are a permanent fixture, giving players and coaches constant access to practice or workouts.
“It’s so nice,” senior outside hitter Miëtte Veldman said. “At our other facility we didn’t share it with other teams, but we still had to take the nets down. It wasn’t like come in whenever you want to. Now we can really have the space as home. It’s our homebase, so it’s really cool.”
Then there’s match day. Based on practices and early time spent inside the building, which opened in 1982 before the recent $22 million renovation, it’s expected to be a deafening environment.
“I think it will bring more fans and more people in here, fifth-year setter Caroline Dozier said. “The seats are pretty close to the court, so I think it will be a loud facility. Some places are too big, and you can’t really feel the crowd, but I think this will be a great atmosphere.”
The facility has already paid off in recruiting, as JMU recently flipped a prospect who had previously chosen another school before getting a look at the Dukes’ new home.
“I walk around and I’m like there’s not very volleyball programs in the country that have this,” Steinbrecher said. “So it’s exciting, we’ve never really recruited with great facilities, so to see what the next chapter of the program will be now that we have them.”
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