The Final Act: End of an Era for Auburn Volleyball

Nov. 8, 2013

By Ethan Brady

AUBURN, Ala. - Tucked behind Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum in the shadow of Auburn's massive new Recreation and Wellness Center, lies a piece of Auburn volleyball history.

From the outside it almost looks abandoned, blending into the surrounding structures as if to avoid being seen. The old brick is caked with clay dust from nearby construction on bigger and better projects, and the weeds growing freely around its edges seem to be its only sign of life.

But what happened inside its walls for 28 years was fantastic. A central component for Auburn volleyball, the Student Activities Center became a home.

On Friday the team will say goodbye to the aging facility, playing their final game in the historic building - in its current configuration - against the undefeated Missouri Tigers.

Since 1986, the complex has reigned as one of the most challenging playing courts for SEC volleyball players, visiting and home teams alike.

"I think it's a very unique type of facility in the sense that when we go play on the road, you don't play in anything else like this," said assistant coach Kris Grunwald. "Whether that be good, bad or different, it's a unique environment for college volleyball. Teams hate to play here."

The arena portion of the complex where volleyball holds its matches is a small, compressed gym space with bleachers rising on one side of the courts and a stage on the other. Smaller than some high school gyms, when the room is at full capacity it's deafening.

Most visiting teams have never experienced playing in a facility quite like "The Act," as the building is commonly called. It's been a challenge for both visitors and Auburn volleyball along the way.

Grunwald, an assistant from 1994-1997 and head coach in 1998 and 1999 before returning as an assistant in 2012, knows all too well the difficulties of playing in the Student Activities Center, where neither the home or visiting teams had a locker room on match day.

"Logistically, it's always been a struggle in this building," Grunwald said. "I remember when we use to have our team meeting between the second and third sets in the stairway. We'd be at the bottom and the other team would walk past us to the top. That's how it was."

Grunwald said the most unique match in The Act he remembers was during his second year as head coach against Georgia. It was a cold, rainy night in October and the bleachers were packed with Auburn residents and students looking to get out of the rain any way they could.

"It was probably one of the largest attendances we had that season," Grunwald said. "It was a big SEC match for us, there was literally a monsoon outside, and then it happened, the roof started leaking right above the court."

The game had to be stopped mid-set because the court was unplayable.

"So we ripped up the net, and moved over two courts while the fans had to watch us from across the gym," Grunwald said. "It was one of the many gems to occur in this facility during my time."

The unusual experiences that occurred in the Student Activities Center were part of its unique character. It was always a difficult task for Auburn to maintain the building, but an even harder challenge to opponents because of its unique atmosphere.

Stories of a hole in the floor under the bleachers and sports information and marketing staffers rigging a soundboard that was shorting out with a screwdriver and a pen cap shows The Act has had its downfall moments.

Even through these trials, the facility is still equipped with some state of the art features. In 2002, after years of player injuries from shin splints and aching knees, the court was outfitted with a Uniforce Performance System. The specialty flooring allows athletes to compete without sacrificing their bodies by providing a suspended, softer foundation under the court.

"It used to just be wood on concrete meant as a recreation facility, not for teams to train on," Grunwald said. "Then they replaced the court and we saw a significant decrease in stress fractures and shin splints."

The Tigers have played the majority of their matches in the activities center, with a scattered few in Beard-Eaves Coliseum in previous years. Altogether, the team has amassed a 158-136 record in the facility since the volleyball program was reinstated in 1986.

Beginning this season, the team is playing the majority of its matches in Auburn Arena and plans to stay there for the immediate future, although there are talks of renovating a different part of the Student Act down the road. The team will continue to use the Student Act as a practice facility for the foreseeable future.

Head coach Rick Nold says playing in the Auburn Arena is a new experience, but a step forward in the right direction.

"For our team especially, the arena has more of the glitz and glamour with things like the lights-off, music blaring intro on the video board," Nold said. "We're going from a high school gym to a major college arena, and for our players it's a huge step up."

The up-close and personal feel of The Act becomes somewhat lost in the arena. The stands are farther away from the court and the benches and coaches seem spread out from the action, but the concentrated energy remains.

The arena will also boost the team's recruiting efforts going forward. Freshman Kia Bright says moving to the Auburn Arena has been an enjoyable experience for the team.

"It's been great with the atmosphere and video board there," Bright said. "We have a bigger locker room on game day in the arena, and we're always listening to music and having dance parties there. It's a lot of laughing and fun for the team that helps us take the pregame pressure off."

For some people around Auburn volleyball, leaving the Student Activities Center has been a long-awaited exit, but everyone agrees there's something special about it. The facility has spent the last 28 years helping Auburn volleyball grow into the competitive program it is today.