For the first time since 1997, Longhorn fans will cheer for the Texas volleyball team at the Frank Erwin Center instead of Gregory Gymnasium.
Texas Athletics announced the venue change for all 2020 home volleyball matches July 6. The Erwin Center provides fans adequate space for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the athletic department said.
While fans will miss the atmosphere of Gregory Gym, some are optimistic about the change, saying it encourages them to go to the matches.
“I think I will be going, but the primary reason I am willing to go is because they switched to the Erwin Center,” management junior Jared Mondragon said. “The intimacy in Greg is what makes it awesome and all, but you really cannot be close to people right now. At the Erwin Center, you'll be able to enjoy the game and be there, but not (have) to worry about who's around you.”
Mondragon said he did not miss a home match during the 2019 season and vividly remembers when then-No. 4 Texas swept the undefeated No. 1 Baylor Bears in a straight-set victory on Oct. 23. He recalls the entire student section standing and screaming the whole match, clumped together on the bleacher-style seats that line Gregory Gym — an idea that once seemed normal before the pandemic.
Like Mondragon, sport management junior Caleb Boujemaa has attended many Texas volleyball matches. At Gregory Gym, he said the fans were constantly making a difference — especially because they were so close to the court — whether it was from being loud or getting in opponents’ heads. For many fans, that’s what made Gregory Gym so special; its intimate setting encouraged energy and interaction from the crowd.
Boujemaa, however, does not feel the energy will be any different in the Erwin Center, which has a capacity of 16,540 compared to Gregory Gym’s 4,000-person limit.
“I don't think it will change the atmosphere that much,” Boujemaa said. “I think that the players bring the energy, and the energy is contagious. And I don't think the jump from stadium to stadium is going to impact Texas volleyball in a negative way.”
Biology junior Max Lidstone welcomes the change, but wonders how fans will feed off of each other's energy if they are dispersed throughout the Erwin Center.
“It might honestly change the momentum a lot because you have your home-court advantage,” Lidstone said. “Right now we're feeding so much off of each other that that home-court advantage just keeps piling up. And now that we're going to be kind of dispersed, it's going to dilute the intensity.”
The Texas volleyball team will start its season Sept. 24 in Norman against Oklahoma but will make its home debut Oct. 1. Although fans will be trading in their usual trek down Speedway for one down MLK Boulevard, Mondragon, Lidstone and Boujemaa said they will be attending the matches.
“Hell or high water, I'm going to be a Longhorn fan until I die,” Lidstone said. “I'm going to go enjoy the game. As long as we're being safe, I absolutely think that I'm going to enjoy it — even if it may not be the same way that I enjoy it.”