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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Curtain call: It’s showtime

    The new retractable curtain, shown in McKale Center before a 10 a.m. game against Weber State last Friday, cuts the seating in the arena from 14,525 down to 4,181 for a more intimate setting.
    The new retractable curtain, shown in McKale Center before a 10 a.m. game against Weber State last Friday, cuts the seating in the arena from 14,525 down to 4,181 for a more intimate setting.

    Arizona is known for having one of the rowdiest student sections in the nation during men’s basketball games. Year after year, home game tickets have been sold out, and the McKale Center’s 14,545 seats are filled with blood-thirsty fans. It is what every sports team and coach dream of.

    UA head volleyball coach David Rubio made his dream a reality instriving for the same.

    After receiving a generous donation from a private investor, Rubio decided to do something he’s wanted to for a long time. $650,000 later, a luxurious crowd-compacting curtain is hanging in McKale.

    The navy shield reduces the arena’s number of seats to 4,181 – about 29 percent of its full capacity – creating a more personal, and perhaps obnoxious, setting for the opposing team.

    Last weekend was the team’s first time putting the curtain to the test during regular play, and the reaction was anything but negative.

    “”The curtain is awesome, it really changes the atmosphere,”” said sophomore setter Paige Weber. “”We probably didn’t have any more people this year than we had last year, but it seemed like we did (this weekend).

    “”You could see the fans – you could feel them. I think it’ll make it tougher on the other team. So that will be nice for the rest of the season.””

    Middle blocker Stephanie Snow said Weber, MVP of last weekend’s tournament, made a difference on the floor through her high-spirited encouragement and ability to rile up the team. Upon its installment and first test run, the curtain arguably plays a similar, but non-verbal role.

    The blue barrier compresses everyone closer to the action and turns up the volume simultaneously. Because of the new acoustics in the gym, the fans are louder, giving them the biggest role they have had in Arizona volleyball history.

    Assistant coach Allison Napier – a former UA outside hitter and First Team All Pacific-10 Conference Honoree in 2000 – compared the squad’s match this weekend to her games played in the pre-curtain era:

    “”It made the setting more intimate. We had a lot of fans but it felt like more because it cut out half the stands,”” Napier said. “”It definitely made a difference from what you see on the court looking out into the crowd, as opposed to the big cavernous hole when the curtain is not up.””

    Snow, who is now a sophomore, compared the game’s perspective to last year and said she loves how close the crowd sits now because it is louder and it feels more like a home crowd.

    Snow killed a quick set out of the middle against San Jose State Friday night, which would have landed at the 10-foot line on the other side of the net, had it not made friends with the face of an opponent first.

    Within in the surge of excitement, a fan sitting in the front row yelled, “”Would you like some cucumber to go with that facial?””

    Despite how loud the fan was, Snow didn’t hear his remark – perhaps it got lost in the dense sea of chants.

    “”I wish I would have heard him say that. Stuff like that really pumps me up,”” Snow said after the game. “”Especially when the game is at a close point like it was.””

    Rubio said that the new addition to the arena adds to the team’s momentum as well.

    “”I think that it will further our ability to play better,”” Rubio said. “”It’s always easier to play better when you have a bigger crowd and they’re on top of you.””

    Rubio thought there were 1,000 or 1,200 fans at the match Saturday night, but there was actually just over 640 accounted for.

    When everyone is packed between the curtain and the court, the players can feel the unity and warmth – the latter in a literal sense for one player in particular:

    “”I don’t know if the air conditioning ducts are behind them or what, but it is hot in there,”” Weber said of the McKale arena after a match. “”The curtains are like thermal.””

    Whether the increased temperature was a result of a new season’s nerves, or the crowd-compressing curtain – and its apparent ability to retain heat – the Wildcats welcome the new addition and appreciate the generosity behind its installment.

    “”I think we’re the only volleyball facility in the country that has something like this in its arena,”” Rubio said. “”I’m really lucky we were able to do something like this.””

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