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Warren: As a temporary home, Beardsley Gym was tough to top

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Warren: As a temporary home, Beardsley Gym was tough to top

The Wildcats wait for a serve on their temporary home, Beardsley Gym. Northwestern volleyball played their last game on the court on Sunday.

The Wildcats wait for a serve on their temporary home, Beardsley Gym. Northwestern volleyball played their last game on the court on Sunday.

Daily file photo by Brian Meng

The Wildcats wait for a serve on their temporary home, Beardsley Gym. Northwestern volleyball played their last game on the court on Sunday.

Daily file photo by Brian Meng

Daily file photo by Brian Meng

The Wildcats wait for a serve on their temporary home, Beardsley Gym. Northwestern volleyball played their last game on the court on Sunday.

Peter Warren, Sports Editor

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Volleyball


When the Northwestern volleyball team left the court of Evanston Township High School’s Beardsley Gym on Oct. 28, it marked the end of an era.

For just over a year, the Wildcats’ volleyball and women’s basketball teams have been playing their games at the high school’s gym as their permanent home — Welsh-Ryan Arena — was renovated. But with its official ribbon-cutting ceremony and first game set for Friday, it is likely NU fans have seen the Cats play their last game at 1600 Dodge Street.

Obviously, playing in a high school gymnasium is not an ideal situation. But, considering the University’s options and the perspective of a year of play in the gym, Beardsley Gym was the right choice. As a short-term replacement, it is a pretty tough venue to beat.

The Beardsley era began on Sep. 23, 2017 when the NU volleyball team played Illinois and 1,092 fans filled the Gym for a 3-0 loss to the Fighting Illini. Despite the loss, then-senior middle blocker Gabrielle Hazen said Beardsley was louder than Welsh-Ryan, as well as more compact.

Beardsley Gym provided a good size with a capacity of 2,400 and prime location, not only sitting in Evanston but also being only two miles down the road.

“At Welsh-Ryan, it felt like fans were all super spread out and all over the place,” Hazen said last fall. “Here, everything is so much closer to the court so you can feel the energy so much more. It’s awesome. I love it.”

That atmosphere was not the norm for games, and there were many times were the attendance fell under 500 fans. But when Beardsley started reaching quadruple-digit attendance or when the band showed up, it gave the ETHS gym a different atmosphere.

Now, was it on the level of Nebraska’s Devaney Center, where average attendance is greater than the arena’s official capacity? No, it was not. But it made enough of a difference for the team to take notice.

“Love all the fans here, love the band here, send the band director a thank you note,” coach Shane Davis said after the Cats beat Michigan State at Beardsley on Oct. 19.

For women’s basketball regular season games, they drew a more consistent group of fans — attendance never went below 572 fans — but volleyball had more games with over 1,000 fans. Coach Joe McKeown’s team played in front of an average of about 797 fans per game, while Davis’ group averaged 860 watchers.

As for other venues, it is clear that Beardsley was the best fit, by far. Allstate Arena — where the men’s basketball team played in front of some sparse student crowds — was way too large for the volleyball and women’s basketball programs’ turnout. Playing at a nearby institution like Loyola presented other challenges, such as being in an inconvenient location. The volleyball team did play two games at DePaul’s McGrath-Phillips Arena in front of paltry crowds, and lost both — a five-set thriller versus Maryland and an awful three-set sweep against Ohio State.

“Even through difficult circumstances, I think everybody won,” athletic director Jim Phillips said in May. “Really thankful for the relationship we have with ETHS and hopefully they feel the same way.”

Beardsley was far from perfect. Both teams struggled while playing at ETHS. The volleyball team finished with a record of 4-9, while the women’s basketball team fared better, ending at 7-7. The design of the court — orange and navy — is the same color scheme as rival Illinois. And, even with the addition of the scoreboards at both ends of the gym, it looked and felt like a high school gym.

The Beardsley Gym era will be forgotten, which should come as no surprise. I doubt many people know or remember that the New York Yankees played at Shea Stadium for two years in the 1970s when Yankee Stadium was renovated or that the Chicago Bears played the 2002 season at Illinois’ Memorial Stadium while Soldier Field was under construction. It’s the way these cycles work. The temporary stadium almost always becomes a neat trivia question instead of a meaningful part of team history.

But I think Beardsley Gym deserves a little bit better than that. It gave the volleyball and women’s basketball teams a convenient, solid home. And while it is nothing compared to Welsh-Ryan, it did provide student-athletes with a good place to play.

“We’ve made a ton of memories in this locker room (at Beardsley), even from the occasional bugs and funny things we’ve found written on the walls,” sophomore middle blocker Alana Walker said Sunday. “It’s still a really homey space that’s been nice to play at.”

Andy Marquardt contributed reporting.

Email: peterwarren2021@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @thepeterwarren

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