LINCOLN — While workers are scrambling to finish the Devaney Center renovations about a month before it becomes the new home of Nebraska volleyball, the building already is having an effect on the program’s future.
Husker recruits are buzzing over the team’s new digs, which are undergoing a $20 million renovation to turn the former NU men’s and women’s basketball facility into the nation’s finest college volleyball arena.
“I saw it before it was finished. I saw the modeled pictures and everything. It’s awesome. It’s huge. I can’t wait to see it when it’s done,” said Kenzie Maloney, a 2015 Husker libero commit out of Louisville, Ky.
“Just how many people can fit in there and how many people will be watching. You can walk upstairs and there’s this whole area you can walk up and look down on the court.”
Maloney, one of the nation’s top defensive specialist recruits for 2015, said the revamped Devaney Center helped Nebraska stand out among recruiting pitches from some of the country’s top programs.
“It definitely made a difference,” she said.
Nebraska already had an electric home court at the perpetually packed NU Coliseum, and NU’s 2013 freshman class was ranked No. 1 nationally by PrepVolleyball.com. But Husker coaches have been fishing for future top-ranked classes by showing recruits models and computer designs of the Devaney renovations.
Since construction on the arena began following basketball season, NU targets have been able to see the Huskers’ new home for themselves. A trip through the Devaney Center has been a regular feature for visiting recruits, Nebraska coach John Cook said. Even though the tours require everyone to don a hard hat, Cook said recruits’ eyes get noticeably bigger when they see the results taking shape.
“It’s a mess, but my jaw dropped when we walked in,” Cook said. “You just look up, and it’s really cool.
“Our recruiting is on fire.”
The highlight, Cook said, is the arena’s redesigned south side, which will feature five luxury boxes. Adjacent to the boxes are the coaches offices, where Cook said he can see the state capital to the south and the playing court to the north.
The luxury boxes are believed to be a unique feature among college volleyball arenas.
“The thing that surprised me the most was the skyboxes,” said 2014 outside hitter commit Maddie Haggerty, sister of NU sophomore Meghan Haggerty. “I’ve never even heard of a place that has skyboxes (for volleyball).”
Aside from new concourses, restrooms, video boards and concessions areas, the remodeled Devaney Center is being reconfigured to hold about 8,000 seats, with 2,000 on the floor. The floor seats will include a student section that should be noticeably larger than the one at NU Coliseum, which set aside about 100 seats.
The team will also have a new weight room and locker room in the arena with a number of high-tech bells and whistles that made Maloney take notice.
“The locker rooms are going to be high-tech with iPads so you can play your own music,” she said.
Cook said the Huskers intentionally scheduled a road tournament in St. Louis to open the season in order to give workers an extra cushion to complete renovations. But last week, the Nebraska athletic department announced the Devaney renovations were on schedule to be completed by late August. Cook is hoping work is done in time to hold the team’s annual Red-White scrimmage there Aug. 24 so a large crowd can provide a match-like environment for his young club, which will feature 10 newcomers in 2013.
“Red-White will be a big night for a lot of kids,” Cook said. “That’s why I hope we have a big crowd. That will be about as much pressure as they can feel in one night.”
In other NU volleyball news:
>> Cook said Monday the entire 2013 team is now on campus for summer workouts and classes. Libero Justine Wong-Orantes, middle blocker Melanie Keil and walk-on defensive specialist Alexa Ethridge had not previously been in Lincoln this summer.
>> Redshirt sophomore walk-on Alicia Ostrander has been moved to middle blocker from outside hitter, where she had played sparingly during her first two years in the program.
>> Cook said freshman outside hitter Kadie Rolfzen is fully recovered from shoulder soreness that kept her from taking full-speed swings this spring. Rolfzen played libero during Nebraska’s spring indoor exhibition matches to rest her arm.
>> Two Husker commits have made the U.S. Girls Youth National Team that will compete in the U-18 World Championships from Thursday to Aug. 4 in Thailand. Maloney and West Point, Iowa, middle blocker Mikaela Foecke, both 2015 commits, were among 16 players training with the team in Anaheim, Calif. The team was recently trimmed to 12 players, with Foecke and Maloney making the final roster.