Hot Start In The Sanford Coyote Sports Center

MICHAEL HAMMOND | USD Sports Information

Dec. 21, 2016 | Volleyball, Men’s and Women’s Basketball

VERMILLION, S.D. — With one semester in the books, the new Sanford Coyote Sports Center has been a hit with the athletes after moving three teams in from the DakotaDome.

From the new weight room and training room to the locker rooms and lounges, members of the volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball teams have been impressed with the Sports Center, but the biggest thing that has stuck out is the energy and atmosphere on game days.

“When I first walked in, the arena amazed me with how intimate the seating is,” men’s basketball senior Tyler Flack said. “It seems like the energy is way better than the Dome with everyone up close and personal. I think our guys have fed off that to play well at home.”

Not just men’s basketball, but the women’s basketball team and the volleyball team have played well at home for a combined 21-1 record inside the Sports Center.

The volleyball team opened up the arena with a 10-1 home record—the only loss coming against the Big 12’s Iowa State—en route to winning their first Summit League regular season crown.

“With the new arena it gave us a huge home court advantage,” freshman volleyball player Annie Rasmussen said. “Even with just a couple hundred fans in there, they still made it loud for us.”

After moving over from the Coyote Den inside the DakotaDome, the volleyball team has a newfound sense of pride in their home court.

“I think it gave a newfound excitement for our class with Kelly Law, Meagan Kerns, and I,” junior Brittany Jessen said. “We talked about how we can end our careers there and make a statement. We want to take what we did this year and translate it to next year.”

While volleyball looks forward to its second season in the Sports Center, the men’s and women’s basketball teams have gotten off to 6-0 and 5-0 starts, respectively, as the non-conference schedule comes to a close.

“You want to have a strong presence at home,” men’s basketball junior Austin Sparks said. “That helps bring in fans and hopefully gets people at the University excited to watch us play.”

A strong presence is just what the basketball teams have with the men beating teams by an average of nearly 20 points and the women beating teams by over 16 points per game.

“Our game against San Jose State was one of the louder atmospheres I have played in,” women’s basketball senior Bridget Arens said. “I think there have been a couple games that we, the men, and the volleyball team have pulled out because of the tremendous following we have.”

That following has included volleyball players who have enjoyed their time watching basketball since their season has finished.

“I’ve gone to almost all the basketball games,” Rasmussen said. “It is different than being on the court and having people cheer for us, but it really involves the fans. It made me want to go to more games and hopefully that translates to volleyball as well.”

Along with the on-court advantage, the teams now have off-the-court advantages as well.

In the DakotaDome there was just one practice court between the basketball teams. Now with two practice courts, plus the main court, there is always a place for all three teams to get work in.

The Sports Center is always open to athletes who may want to work on their individual games in their free time.

“For the guys who want to get more work in on their own, they don’t have to come in super early or late,” Sparks said. “We’ve always been pretty good about getting players in to work on their game, but now it seems like whenever I come in, there is always someone in the training room, the weight room, or on the court.”

“You can get in and get some extra shots up or get a lot more stuff accomplished because you have the ability to do it,” Arens added.

The new state-of-the-art Dave & Paula Hultgren Family Weight Room is one of the underrated features of the Sports Center.

“The weight room has been awesome,” Jessen said. “We are learning new lifts and movements specific to volleyball every day.”

Each team also has their own players’ lounge for the athletes to use at their leisure. Each lounge is equipped with couches, a pair of TVs and plenty of nutritious snacks. The men’s basketball team also has an Xbox in their lounge.

“You’ll go in there and there will always be someone studying, napping, playing games, or watching TV,” Sparks said. “It’s nice to have a place to hang out.”

“I like to go in there on Sundays and watch football with two games going,” Flack added. “It’s nice to go in there between lifting and practice or in between classes if you’ve got some free time.”

While the men’s basketball team likes to game, USD head volleyball coach Leanne Williams set a strict no-volleyball rule for her team’s players’ lounge.

“We go in there before and after practice to hang out,” Jessen said. “We don’t watch film or read scouting reports in there. It is just a place for us to get good team bonding in.”

Overall, the athletes have been very thankful for everything that the Sanford Coyote Sports Center offers to them.

“USD is really putting a lot into their athletes,” Rasmussen said. “Having top-notch facilities like that makes you want to get in there and work harder.”

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