The Johnson and Wales women's volleyball team didn't have an on-campus court last year so they had to make the 20-minute drive down U.S. 74 to Carolina Courts in Indian Trail.
The trip was especially challenging for freshman outside hitter Shanna Stewart. To get to matches on time, the sports, entertainment and events major, had to leave early from her late-afternoon classes and allow double the drive time in rush-hour traffic.
Now Johnson and Wales has a new student center, which opened in April. This school year, the 33,000-square-foot building will be home to the university's two varsity athletic teams, women's volleyball and men's basketball.
The volleyball team played its first on-campus home game against Georgia's Emmanuel College on Aug. 23.
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Fall classes don't start until Sept. 6, so the team will host a grand opening game against Davidson County Community College on Sept. 8.
With six players back from last year's team, Wildcats coach Callie Phillips says the addition of the Student Center is representative of the positive direction the program is about to take. Johnson and Wales hopes to improve last year's 3-23 mark.
Program leaders are grateful for the temporary facilities the team used while the student center was being built. That includes Fran's Kids Day Care on Beatties Ford Road, which has a gymnasium that was used as the Wildcats' practice site. Still, players had to arrange for transportation to and from practices.
Transportation also was an issue for some Johnson and Wales students wishing to travel to matches at Carolina Courts. Team co-captain Felicia Anderson, now a sophomore, says there were ways to entice their fellow schoolmates.
"The biggest thing was that the games were free," she said. "And we had a shuttle bus for a couple of games. That way it was easier for students to get back and forth."
The student center is a five-minute walk from the campus' dorms.
Equipped with a fitness center and locker rooms, the center allows easy access to cross-training. Since the volleyball team started pre-season training Aug. 3, Phillips has the Wildcats hitting the fitness center at 8-9 a.m., practicing 9-11 a.m. and practicing again in the afternoon.
The new facility has already paid dividends in recruiting, Phillips says. Johnson and Wales does not offer athletic scholarships, so a new building can make the difference for a prospective student-athlete having to make a decision between two schools.
"I did have one recruit that visited last October who was ready to make a decision," said Phillips. "I think she was leaning towards Johnson and Wales. (In the spring), she asked to meet with me again. I said, 'Can you meet with me at the student center?' She walked in and said, 'Oh, yeah, I'm coming here.' "
For more information on Johnson and Wales athletics, visit charlotte.jwuathletics.com.