Feb. 11, 2014
By Brian Rice
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Volleyball has never had a place of its own. Tuesday afternoon, in what is now a parking lot next to Regal Soccer Stadium, the ground was broken to give the program what it has always been missing.
Sure, UT has had home venues. But since moving to Stokely Athletics Center for competition full-time in 1997, the team has had to surrender or share their home court space, both in and out of season. Indoor track season meant early mornings at campus rec facilities for off-season workouts and spring practices. Extra work for players? No space, not an option.
But on Tuesday afternoon, Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Dave Hart, Head Coach Rob Patrick and supporters of the program gathered to break ground on the new Volleyball Practice Facility, a new $3 million home for the program and its student-athletes that will open this fall.
"It's exciting beyond words because it's been two years in the process," Hart said. "People have been very patient, including Rob (Patrick) and our team, and it's very exciting when you finally get to that culmination point where it becomes a real. The student-athlete is why we do what we do, we're a student-athlete centered athletics program, so any time we can bring a new facility online, it's a tangible commitment to the student-athletes and to what we're trying to accomplish."
For Patrick, who is Tennessee's second-longest tenured head coach, having been at UT since 1997, the new facility is the realization of a long-held dream for a permanent home.
"This is something that has been in the works for a long while and I really appreciate the administration really working very hard over a long period of time to get this done," Patrick said. "It's for the players, they have a place to call home. They can own an area and really call it home, that's the thing I'm really excited about."
Volleyball matches moved to Thompson-Boling Arena in 2008, but the program was still able to utilize Stokely as a practice home during the fall until 2012. With the building under redevelopment, the team had to split practice time between Pratt Pavilion, Thompson-Boling and other sites, working around the schedules of other programs and events.
"It'll be nice to have something that's our own," freshman Kayleigh Moody said after wielding a shovel to help in the groundbreaking. "Just to have one solid, concrete place is going to be exciting."
Patrick, who has twice been named National Coach of the Year and has a pair of SEC Championships, a Final Four appearance in 2005 and seven NCAA Tournament selections, is proud of what his teams have accomplished in spite of the lack of a volleyball-only facility. Now, he looks to take the program to the next level.
"It's going to make a difference in recruiting, it's going to make a difference in the way we are able to train," Patrick said. "I can't thank the players that came before for the obstacles they had to overcome and still be able to be successful. I'm excited about the facility and the difference that it's going to make in the future of Tennessee Volleyball."
And Patrick has his sales pitch all ready to go for the next generation of Tennessee student-athletes that come in to see what UT is building: Stay quiet.
"The sales pitch is going to become pretty self-explanatory when they come in and take a look at it," he said.