EDITORS NOTE: This is the third and final edition of Coyote Rewind for the spring semester. This week we flash back to August 2016, when the Coyote volleyball team played the first game in the brand new Sanford Coyote Sports Center. The original article was written by former Volante reporter Max Tushla.
With those words, the brand new Sanford Coyote Sports Center plunged into darkness while a volleyball hype video played on the two big screens. For some programs theatrics like this may be normal, but for the Coyotes, this never would have been possible in the old Den.
“Surreal was actually a really good word,” Coyote head volleyball coach Leanne Williamson said. “We kind of had an idea of what the buildup was going to be, the video with the lights off. So we had seen that already which I’m really glad we did because I almost teared up a little bit the first time we saw it.”
Part of what makes it so emotional for the team is because of where they played their past seasons, tucked away in the back corner of the DakotaDome.
“It was such a ‘wow’ factor and I think it’s something that means maybe more because of what we’ve had in the past,” Williamson said. “We’ve really took the Den and made it the best facility that we could because we had to.”
For the opening of the SCSC, 2,401 fans showed up. This may not seem like many in a 6,000 seat arena, but for a team that drew 300 plus on a good day, this was unreal, junior Kelly Law said.
“We just have so much support from everybody and we’ve really felt it this year,” Law. said. “It means a lot and it definitely carries into how we play.”
That support also helped boost the Coyotes to their 3-1 win over the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks.
USD and UND traded blows in the first set, before the Coyotes came out with a 25-23 win. The second set saw the Coyotes go on the attack. With the student section to their backs, USD stomped the Fighting Hawks 25-8. In the third set UND came back strong, they took the set 25-23. For the Coyotes, it seemed playing with the students behind them was a factor. After switching ends for the fourth set, the Coyotes found their groove. They took the seat 25-14 to seal a 3-1 win.
Despite the presence of the crowd, senior Audrey Reeg said she found this no different than any other match.
“Definitely different coming out right away but once that first serve is served the fans aren’t even there. It’s not even a factor,” Reeg said. “The crowd being there is great, but once you’re zoned in it’s not a factor.”
Law had a strong night for the Coyotes, notching 10 kills on 15 attempts. She credited the performance to her team.
“It has very little to do with individual,” Law said. “You want to have a good night obviously but when we’re working together as a team those kind of things happen when your teammates are making good decisions, Britt’s setting balls to pretty much everybody so it makes it easy and it makes it fun.”
Junior Brittany Jessen had a massive night for USD. Jessen recored a triple-double with 12 kills, 39 assists and 19 digs.
“We’re playing together extremely well and that was one of our mottos last year and this year we’re going with all in and I think we’re really embodying that,” Jessen said. “Just having more fun out there and relying on each other for ups and downs.”
The win puts the Coyotes at 3-1 on the season, but the opening of the new arena is what’s on everyone’s mind. Not only does the SCSC have an impact for the team, but also for the program’s mentality going forward.
“I think it’s going to make a difference for us right away,” Williamson said. “I think we have a sense of pride right now, a huge sense of pride. I think that’s a big part of playing at home right now, is defending that home court, because we really enjoy where we are.”
USD will get another chance to impress at the SCSC on Thursday night when they take on the University of Missouri-Kansas City at 7 p.m.
For coach Williamson and her players, the new arena is a culmination of the work they have put in.
“You earned the right to play in front of 2,400 people and have people cheering you on,” Williamson said. “The Den was great, but words can’t describe how nice this is.”