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SAYING GOODBYE: Jimmies host final Hansen Center match tonight

Morgan Hensch has experienced a unique love-hate relationship with the Hansen Center. Before transferring to the University of Jamestown last fall, the former North Dakota State College of Science outside hitter had the privilege of suiting up as...

University of Jamestown seniors, left to right, Heather Bachman, Nicole Warren, Kaitlin Anderson, Aubrey Beaumont, Elise Peterson and Siri Jystad, will compete tonight in the final volleyball match scheduled to be played inside the historic Hansen Center. John M. Steiner / The Sun
University of Jamestown seniors, left to right, Heather Bachman, Nicole Warren, Kaitlin Anderson, Aubrey Beaumont, Elise Peterson and Siri Jystad, will compete tonight in the final volleyball match scheduled to be played inside the historic Hansen Center. John M. Steiner / The Sun

Morgan Hensch has experienced a unique love-hate relationship with the Hansen Center.

Before transferring to the University of Jamestown last fall, the former North Dakota State College of Science outside hitter had the privilege of suiting up as a visitor at the Jimmies' unique home court.

"Coming here and playing against the Jimmies, you just always kind of dreaded it," said Hensch, who earned junior college second team All-American honors in her two years with the Wildcats. "Like, we knew there was going to be balls bouncing off the ceiling and everything like that. But ever since I transferred here, you just embrace it."

Barring major upsets during this week's North Star Athletic Association conference tournament, the Jimmies' opening-round match against Dakota State tonight at 7 p.m. will more than likely be the last competitive match played inside the Hansen Center.

The University of Jamestown is scheduled to unveil the state-of-the-art Harold Newman Arena in August. The $15 million, 61,000-square-foot athletic complex currently under construction on campus will be the Jimmies' new home.

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"It's pretty bittersweet, especially for us seniors," right-side hitter Kaitlin Anderson said. "We're all kind of sad that it's not going to be our home court anymore. But there's so much in the future to look forward to, and no matter where we play it's still going to be the same Jimmie family."

A World War memorial

The Jimmies are finishing their second stint at the Hansen Center. Formerly named Memorial Gymnasium, the building housed the volleyball program when it began in 1975 to 1981.

The team then moved into newer digs, playing matches inside the Larson Sports Center after its construction in 1980.

"Even though it was not designed to be a spectator building, the Larson Center was new and considered a better facility at the time," said Tom Heck, former Jamestown College volleyball coach and UJ's current vice president for planning and administration. "We had to bring in portable bleachers."

But a major renovation to Memorial Gymnasium in 1993, funded primarily by alumni Gordon and Charlotte Hansen, largely turned the Hansen Center into what it is today, and the Jimmies returned in 1995.

Originally built in 1923 as a memorial to veterans of World War I, the Hansen Center at one time contained the first indoor swimming pool in North Dakota.

"The Hansen Center can make for a very intimate setting," said Heck, who coached the Jimmies from 1983 to 1996. "You can really get the crowd going in there, because they're right on top of the action.

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"It was a good home-court advantage to have."

Where championship banners hang

The Jimmies have dominated play inside the tight confines of the Hansen Center for nearly the past decade.

Jamestown's record at home is a remarkable 87-10 dating from 2008 to tonight's meeting with the Trojans. The Jimmies have also either won or shared a part of six conference championships during that span.

Chris Mahoney coached the Jimmies from 1997 to 2008 before passing the torch to current coach Jon Hegerle. Mahoney was at the helm in 2008 when the Jimmies defeated the University of North Dakota 3-2 at the Hansen.

The Jimmies have qualified for nationals three times on the Hansen Center floor during Hegerle's tenure, with victories over Dickinson State (2010) and Mayville State twice (2012, 2014). Other notable victories at the Hansen include 2015's 3-2 win over 13th-ranked Dordt College and this year's 3-2 victory against 19th-ranked Bellevue University.

Hegerle said he hopes the success follows the team to Newman Arena.

"I guess my concern is that the new arena is not going to be ready until our first match, so it's almost like we're at a neutral or an away game," Hegerle said. "For us to make it our own home, that'll be our goal next year to make that happen."

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Fond farewell

Constructed without the sport in mind, volleyball at the Hansen Center has been an experience unto itself for players.

The ceiling can appear to close in at times as fans pack into balconies on both ends of the court. But players wearing orange and black cherished the intimacy.

"I don't even know a word to explain it," current senior libero Nicole Warren said. "The atmosphere really plays to how we defend, and when you get those digs up and the crowd goes wild, it helps bring us to the next level.

"I remember coming in here as a freshman and thinking, 'How do they play in such a small space?' But you get used to it."

Caroms off the roof and running into walls shouldn't be an issue next season and beyond. The 2,000-seat Newman Arena triples the amount of seats currently available to fans.

"You're going to miss just the wild plays that you can make happen in this place," said Hensch, who'll be returning for her senior season in 2017. "But we're looking forward to the new facility and what it's going to bring for our program."

It'll certainly be a large leap forward, but Jimmie volleyball and success will forever be linked to the Hansen Center.

"It will always be something Jimmie volleyball was known for," Warren said. "I know that all the past teams have taken it as an honor to play in the Hansen."

Related Topics: VOLLEYBALL
Savaloja is the sports lead writer for The Jamestown Sun.
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