CEDAR RAPIDS — The transformation of the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena began last week.
“The first thing I did was take a giant Coors Light bottle down from the rafters,” said Jeff Dralle, the facility manager.
All references to alcohol have been taken down or covered up. There will be no Rider Girls, no cowbells. The ice is covered by three layers — vinyl, plastic and the Sport Court playing surface.
Watch a time lapse of the Ice Arena gearing up for volleyball:
For the next four days, the Ice Arena is a volleyball facility.
Renovation of the U.S. Cellular Center forced the state tournament out of the arena for the first time after 20 seasons downtown, and the 3,800-seat Ice Arena is its one-time substitute. The Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union voted in January to keep the event in Cedar Rapids this season instead of shipping it to the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City.
“We think everything is shaping up nicely,” said IGHSAU executive director Mike Dick. “Flexibility is going to be key, because it’s a new venue. Everyone has to remember that it’s just a one-year deal.”
The tournament, which consists of 32 teams in four classes, begins at noon Wednesday. The championship matches are Saturday.
Dick’s biggest worry?
“That there are more people than seats, and that some people have to stand,” he said. “On the other hand, that’s a great problem to have.”
Members of the Cedar Rapids Kennedy team took in a Cedar Rapids RoughRiders hockey game earlier this season, “just to scope out the arena,” according to senior Allie Hutcheson.
The Cougars’ poster this season was taken at the Ice Arena with the theme, “Same Destination, Different Location.” They made it to state for the fourth straight year; their last three excursions to the U.S. Cellular Center ended with losses in the Class 4A semifinals.
Hutcheson joined Shelly Stumpff of defending 4A champion Iowa City West, Erin Muir of Iowa City High and Kelsey Hinrichs of first-time qualifier Solon for a photo shoot at the Ice Arena on Friday.
Watch a video on the making of the cover shoot:
For Stumpff and Muir, it was their first time in the building.
“It’s bigger in here that I thought it would be,” Muir said.
Stumpff said, “When I heard they were moving to an ice arena, I was like, ‘What the heck.’ Now that I’m in here, I think it’s going to be awesome.”
At the U.S. Cellular Center, the crowd sat well above the playing surface.
“The noise goes up to the ceiling there,” said Solon Coach Kurt Trout. “Here, it’s going to hit the walls and the ceiling, then bounce right back to you.
“Fans are within 10 feet of you. It’s like being in a high school gym.”
Dick said, ”Teams are going to enjoy the intimacy. It’s smaller, it’s closer, and it’s going to be an excitable atmosphere.”
Getting into and out of the arena could be an issue.
For Wednesday through Friday, two matches will be played simultaneously (on courts set up end to end). The small capacity means fans of teams “on deck” may need to wait in the Ice Arena lobby.
“There’s the potential of a bottleneck,” Dralle said. “But people will be able to exit after their matches through the north and west doors.”
The tightness inside the arena could be problem. Parking won’t be.
“There’s more parking here that at the Cellular Center, and it’s free,” Dick said.
Because the ice will be covered, Dralle said the temperature will be in the upper-60s or low-70s on the playing court. He also said the side panels of glass will be removed along the sides, but will stay in place on the ends.
“I never like taking the glass out because you run the risk of busting a panel,” said Dralle, who anticipated more than 100 manhours of work on Sunday alone in preparation. “But this will be fun. It will be a unique event.”
The usual $27,500 fee to play in the U.S. Cellular Center is waived this year, giving the Union free rent to run the tournament.
Dick said that U.S. Cellular Center officials have vowed that the traditional venue will be available for use in time for the 2012 tournament. The contract between the center and the Union runs through 2015.
The state tournament has its regulars. Sioux City Heelan, for example, is a qualifier for the 14th straight year. You’ve got “old faithfuls” in Western Christian, Dubuque Wahlert, Dike-New Hartford and Tripoli.
And you’ve got first-timers in Council Bluffs St. Albert, Maquoketa, Solon and Woodward-Granger.
“We were at the Cellular Center last year, and it was our first time there (in five years),” said Grundy Center’s Sarah Frisch. “The teams that had been there previously, they had an advantage.
“Now, nobody has an advantage.”
Allie Hutcheson, Cedar Rapids Ice Arena, Erin Muir, Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, Jeff Dralle, Kelsey Hinrichs, Kurt Trout, Michelle Goodall, Mike Dick, Sarah Frisch, Shelly Stumpff, state volleyball tournament, U.S. Cellular Center, video