Alexis Hart doesn’t need a thermometer to tell the difference. The Gophers senior can measure the temperature change at Maturi Pavilion just by the amount of laundry she generates during volleyball practice.
“I sweat a lot, the most on the team,” Hart said after Monday’s workout. “I’m only going through two shirts now instead of four. It’s a lot nicer.”
The competition in practice is as hot as ever, as the third-ranked Gophers prepare for the Aug. 30 season opener at North Carolina. But the addition of air conditioning to the Pav — part of a $5.1 million package of improvements — has cooled off a building that used to feel like a blast furnace in summer and early fall. With their longtime home finally brought into the era of modern climate control, the Gophers have been able to practice with more energy and less misery.
That’s particularly important for a team that will face the heat quickly. After opening on the road against the Tar Heels and Florida State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the Gophers’ next four matches come against No. 4 Texas, No. 10 Florida, No. 1 Stanford and No. 11 Oregon — the team that defeated the Gophers in last year’s NCAA regional semifinal.
“I think we’ve had a really good preseason so far,” said coach Hugh McCutcheon, whose team will hold an intrasquad scrimmage Saturday at 3:30 p.m., free to the public. “The quality of training has been really good, and I think a lot of that has to do with the environment. It’s much more conducive to performance than it was before.
“It’s nice not to dread coming in here because of the heat. You want to get in here because it’s so pleasant. Words that haven’t been used to describe the Pav in August ever, I don’t think.”
In its original incarnation as Mariucci Arena, Maturi Pavilion used to be one of the coolest places on campus. The former hockey rink was remodeled in 1993 for use as a multisport arena.
Since then, it has sweltered in the summer months. Last season, the Gophers had to cancel a Sept. 15 home match against Kansas State because it was too hot in the building. On the most oppressive days, McCutcheon said, coaches had to monitor players’ workloads, watch for signs of fatigue and worry about injuries on a floor slippery with sweat.
Hart called the air conditioning “a blessing,” while teammate Stephanie Samedy said it has helped the Gophers focus solely on their work and not on their discomfort.
“You come in here and you have a sweater on, and you’re kind of actually cold for once,” she said. “It’s not, you walk out and you start sweating.
“Sometimes, I would notice I would feel more fatigued, just because of the extra heat and the energy I’m expending. But now, it’s kind of like volleyball, and just that. You don’t have to worry about anything else.”
While the air conditioning has been operating since practice began Aug. 10, the Robert K. Eddy Athletic Performance Center will be completed this week. The overhaul of the volleyball team facilities includes a new strength and conditioning room, training room and hydrotherapy pools, all located directly behind the court. The reconfigured space also houses the locker room, film room and players’ lounge.
The second-floor club room has added more premium seating, with a row of 48 seats outside the glass wall that overlooks the floor. The U said in a news release that the $4 million project was privately funded.
As excited as the Gophers are about those luxurious new digs, the cool, fresh air might be the biggest difference-maker of all.
“We’re trying to eliminate all the barriers to improvement that we can,” McCutcheon said. “It’s tough trying to become the best you can be, and it’s even tougher when it’s 98 degrees in here. It’s worked out really well. We’re happy.”