Harry Minium

Carolyn Crutchfield was a middle blocker on the Notre Dame volleyball team more than a decade ago, and a pretty good one at that.

Now assistant athletic director for athletic marketing at Old Dominion University, Crutchfield was ecstatic not only when ODU decided to start playing women's volleyball, but also that officials decided the team will play in a smaller, more intimate setting.

Notre Dame played in the Joyce Center basketball arena. At times, she said, fan noise got lost in the rafters.

Instead of calling the 8,500-seat Chartway Arena home, ODU is renovating the old basketball practice facility at the Jim Jarrett Athletic Administration Building into a volleyball venue. It's a more expensive option, but one officials think will pay off in the long run.

It will seat nearly 900 fans, and given the small size of the venue, those fans could sound like 9,000.

"It's going to provide a really fun, intimate and loud home-court advantage for our team," Crutchfield said. "It's a perfect-sized venue for volleyball. You're close to the action, and the noise there will be constant."

Work began on the $3.1 million project in December, and coaches are wearing hard hats in their offices as the project progresses.

Team workouts have been moved to the ODU Student Recreation Center until the new facility opens in August, shortly before the Monarchs make their debut.

ODU is blowing out some walls to add an entrance to the venue and create new rest rooms and concessions facilities.

All seats will have back support, including several hundred chair-back seats. The facility will include a modern scoreboard and sound system.

"The architects designed some really attractive features," said David Robichaud, ODU's director of design and construction.

The entrance will be on its east side, facing residential halls.

"The architects worked with us to create a facility with its own identity," Robichaud said. "You'll be able to look right into the gym from the sidewalk. At times, you might be able to walk by and see them playing volleyball."

ODU hired former George Mason star Fred Chao from Duke, where he was an assistant, to build the program. He has seven players now - five freshmen, a sophomore and junior - and he and assistant coaches Becca Lamb and Adam McLamb expect to add half a dozen more before next season.

Some sports, including football, require a transition year or two before they're eligible for postseason play. But ODU will begin play as full member of Conference USA, eligible for the league and NCAA tournaments.

Volleyball is dominated by Power 5 conferences. But unlike some other mid-major conferences, C-USA has not been a one-bid league. Rice and Western Kentucky advanced to the 64-team 2019 tournament and each won first-round matches.

"Conference USA is a very competitive league," Chao said. "That's helped us in recruiting. Players know that when they come to ODU, they're going to be playing at a high level."

The Monarchs scrimmaged nearby local colleges in the late winter with mixed results.

"The biggest difference in starting a program is not having established players who can translate what coaches are looking for to incoming players," Chao said. "Becca, Adam and I are basically saying everything out loud as often as we can so they understand what we're looking for."

Chao says the loves the fact that the front door of the volleyball facility will face residential halls.

"I'm hoping students will kind of gravitate to our matches," he said. "It's climate controlled at a time when the climate outside isn't always inviting, so you'll be comfortable at every game.

"Volleyball is an exciting, fast-faced sport. College volleyball typically draws a lot of students."

Some universities have traditions unique to volleyball. Houston and Texas State fans yell "Point Houston" or "Point Bobcat" after a point. At Western Kentucky, fans celebrate scoring plays of every team by waving red towels.

"I hope we can build some fan traditions early," Chao said. "When everyone participates, it makes it matches even more special."

Chao is finishing the schedule for next season. He said the Monarchs are likely to open at home against William & Mary and will play a Big Ten school.

"Well also play some CAA and Atlantic 10 teams," he said. "The schedule will be robust."

Chao said he hopes the team will be competitive, but coming together as a team, developing an identity, training well and making good choices on and off the court are important too.

Players made the right choices academically in their first semester, compiling a 3.74 grade-point average.

ODU will play many home games on Friday nights, and officials hope that becomes a tradition.

"This is a great volleyball town," said Crutchfield, who served on a committee that helped get ODU volleyball off the ground. "There's not only a big club system here, there are a bunch of adult leagues and a sand volleyball community. And boys volleyball is big here.

"It doesn't matter whether it's men's or women's volleyball. If it's volleyball, fans will come to see it."

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