116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CORALVILLE — Bells and whistles. Pyrotechnics and steam.
Xtream Arena hosted its first state volleyball tournament this week, and the folks in Coralville delivered.
When the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union announced last December it was severing a 31-year relationship with downtown Cedar Rapids in favor of the new facility along the banks of the Iowa River, executive director Jean Berger said it “wasn’t a decision made in haste. We try to go with the facilities that offer the best championship experience.”
And after sitting through four days and 35 matches at Xtream, you get it.
The experience — for players, for fans, for officials, for media — was championship-worthy.
Cover an event 22 times in the same place, in your town, you get attached to it.
You get attached to the event, and you get attached to the venue, whether it was called the Five Seasons Center, U.S. Cellular Center or Alliant Energy PowerHouse.
Darn right you’re sentimental. If somebody wants to call you a homer for it, so be it.
So a cynical scribe pulled into the new venue Monday, looking for holes to punch into the argument that the tournament belongs here.
There were none.
One of Xtream’s advantages on the PowerHouse was the availability of practice courts. There were five of them inside adjacent GreenState Family Fieldhouse.
In the northwest corner was a players lounge with games, power drinks, water. The media room is next door, full of tables and a stocked refrigerator.
Cross a hallway and enter a corridor into the main arena. You got this in Cedar Rapids, and you get this in Coralville: Oohs and aahs from the players when they walk in for the first time.
With a capacity of 5,000-ish, Xtream proved to be the perfect size for the tournament. Even when the arena was at its fullest, there still were available seats.
Fans are closer to the court here. It was loud all week, it was festive. And it had to look great on television during Thursday’s championship matches. As the teams made their grand entrance onto the floor for the championship match, they entered through a tunnel with steam, flames and fireworks.
As Wednesday morphed into Thursday, Xtream workers and IGHSAU staffers pulled together to transform the playing surface, from two courts to one central court. Music was cranked, spirits were high.
The expectation, here at least, was traffic and parking would be a problem. Didn’t hear one complaint about either in four days. Didn’t hear any major complaints about anything, in fact.
Just one opinion: The student sections were a long way from center court Thursday, but if that’s the worst beef you’ve got, you don’t have much of an arsenal.
Received a tweet from Iowa City Area Sports Commission official Luke Eustice late Thursday:
“The standard was set pretty dang high over the past 31 years (in Cedar Rapids). We try to do the best we can and help (the Girls Union) put on an event the girls of Iowa deserve.”
Consider it done.