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ODU Planning for 2020 Start for Women's Volleyball

By Harry Minium

It's nearly two years until Old Dominion University begins playing volleyball, but the process of starting a team is well underway.

An eight-person steering committee from the local volleyball community has been meeting for much of the last year, and the head-coaching job has been posted. Athletic director Wood Selig hopes to have a coach in place by January.

From the start, ODU plans to win.

"We don't view this any differently from what we did when we started playing football," Selig said. "Our goal is to be competitive in our first season."

That goal is attainable largely for two reasons. The first is there is a ton of volleyball talent in the Tidewater area, where most public and private high schools play volleyball. There is also an active group of club and youth teams in which thousands of players compete.

Secondly, ODU will have facilities to match all but the top tier in college volleyball.

The school plans to spend about $3.4 million renovating the gymnasium at the Jim Jarrett Administration Building for volleyball. It was built as a basketball practice facility.

Although plans are far from final, David Robichaud, assistant director of design and construction, told the ODU Board of Visitors in September that the facility will seat about 1,000. Entrances will be reconfigured, new restrooms, concessions facilities and a ticket booth installed and existing facilities renovated.

Many universities play volleyball in their basketball arenas to cut costs. "And that doesn't provide the intimate environment we're going to have here," said Ragean Hill the associate athletic director and senior women's administrator at ODU, who is overseeing the startup of volleyball.

If you're a long-time ODU fan, think of the old fieldhouse and how sound reverberated in that gym. The volleyball facility will have a similar feel. A thousand people will seem like 5,000.

The Jarrett building became available when the men's and women's basketball teams moved into the Mitchum Basketball Performance Center last year, an $8.5 million training facility built next to the Ted Constant Convocation Center.

Hill said the volleyball team will use the locker rooms, offices, weight room, training room and offices previously used by women's basketball team.

"Our facilities will be as good as anyone in Conference USA," Selig said.

The new coach will be allowed to recruit eight or nine players next spring and summer who will redshirt in 2019. After another recruiting class, ODU will begin play in August 2020.

ODU added football in 2009 and went 9-2 in its first season. Coach Bobby Wilder was hired in 2007 and not only built the program, but did hundreds of speaking engagements to promote the team.

ODU is searching for the Bobby Wilder of volleyball.

"We're looking for a coach who can build a program from the ground up," Hill said.

"We need someone who knows all of the nuts and bolts of scheduling, recruiting, facilities, everything."

The team will have a budget of about $1.1 million and 12 full scholarships, the maximum allowed by the NCAA, and likely will add several walk-ons. The head coach will be allowed to hire two assistants.

ODU received a head start on funding from the family of Ron Ripley, former rector of the ODU Board of Visitors. Ron and Donna Ripley and Ron's brother, Scott, and his wife, Michele, endowed a scholarship in the name of Kate and John R. Broderick, ODU's First Lady and President.

WKU is the C-USA powerhouse - the Toppers have won the last four conference tournaments. ODU will play all 11 conference teams once and two more home and home. In addition, there will be early season tournaments, and perhaps games against Virginia, VCU, William and Mary, Virginia Tech and Norfolk State.

Rice (12-4) leads C-USA this season and is ranked 25th in the NCAA volleyball RPI ratings.

Volleyball is a growing sport, especially among football schools that are expanding women's sports to comply with Title IX, the federal law that bans discrimination on the basis of sex.

When ODU began football, the school also added women's rowing, which has 20 scholarships and a roster of 60 rowers, and promised to add additional teams.

"This keeps us on the right track with Title IX compliance," Hill said of volleyball.

ODU also hopes to add beach volleyball in a few years, which would add six more scholarships and a roster of 15 athletes.

Volleyball is played by 336 Division I schools, including nearly every school in the Football Bowl Subdivision. ODU is the last Conference USA school to add volleyball.

"The conference is really happy that we've added the sport," Hill said.

Former college stars Katie Davenport and Monique Adams and long-time Princess Anne High School coach Craig Dooren joined local coaches and ODU boosters on the committee.

"There was a lot of volleyball experience on that committee," Hill said. "We wanted to listen to them in order to do things the right way."

And that appears to be just what ODU is doing.

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