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The official opening of the University of Charleston's new, state-of-the-art athletic facility will tip off with a pair of college basketball games on Saturday, Jan. 14 on the UC campus at 2300 MacCorkle Ave., S.E., in Charleston.

The UC women's basketball squad will play West Virginia Wesleyan College's team at 1 p.m. Saturday, followed by a UC men's match-up, also against Wesleyan, getting underway at 3 p.m.

The games will launch and showcase publicly the H. Bernard Wehrle Sr. Athletic Facility, part of the Russell and Martha Wehrle Innovation Center. The center marks the final piece of a $100 million-plus renovation effort that has spanned the past decade. The H. Bernard Wehrle Sr. Athletic Facility is the 21st century replacement of UC's Eddie King Gymnasium, which was built in 1947.

Other recent renovations at UC have included a new parking garage, an apartment complex and a pharmacy school. Major upgrades were also made to the Geary Student Union and Riggleman Hall.

A dedication ceremony for the innovation center/athletic facility was held early last month, allowing students, donors and other visitors a first-hand view of the $15.5 million structure, which took more than a year and a half to complete. Along with the basketball courts, the athletic facility provides new coaches' offices and locker rooms. The innovation center contains classrooms, 3-D printing facilities and a video production laboratory among its amenities.

The Innovation Center will also host its inaugural Hackathon for area high school students over the weekend of Jan. 27-29. As well as being a learning experience in the new facility, the event will enable students to qualify for a $20,000 scholarship from UC. (See related article.)

UC Athletics Director Bren Stevens was in the process of moving into her new offices at the athletic facility last week and foresees an immediate impact the athletic facility will bring. "It's definitely going to enhance recruiting for men's and women's basketball and men's and women's volleyball, she said. "The facility will be used for some other things, but mainly it'll be utilized for men's and women's basketball and volleyball.

"We realized in the last 15 years that students really want to see new things. They want to play in the most updated facility as possible. I believe that our new facility, with the 360-degree seating around the court, is going to really make a great atmosphere for our basketball and volleyball teams.

New video boards around the basketball/volleyball court will also heighten UC fans' enthusiasm, Stevens said. "We have two, six-millimeter, high-definition video boards. Today we are just trying to figure out how to best utilize those to really enhance the fan experience, she said. "They're pretty cool. We have three cameras, so we'll have a wide-angle camera, a camera that zooms in and does replays and a camera for a fan-cam, a dance cam, whatever we want to utilize it for.

"In my opinion, it puts us on a level with a lot of Division I institutions, with what we'll be able to do, perhaps on a bit of a smaller scale, she added. "The technology is just unbelievable.

Stevens said UC's coaching staffs will also benefit from their new digs. "We'll all be under one roof, and that's never been the case. This is my 24th year here at the University of Charleston, and we've had football coaches over in this building originally and soccer coaches in the Gorman Building and some over in the Eddie King building. From a communication and operational standpoint, that's going to be a significant betterment of our program.

"We first started talking about this project when I was still coaching volleyball. That was about 15 years ago, so to finally see it come to fruition -- and it's been a lot of hard work by many different people and especially our president, Dr. Ed Welch, to make this happen -- I believe this building will be the hallmark building on our campus, Stevens said.

"We're moving some of our admissions people over into the building, as well. For engaging students, not just athletes, it's going to help in a lot of different ways.

"The University of Charleston really welcomes the community to come out for our events on Saturday, she said. "We feel the community is essential to our success and we would love to have folks from the community on our campus on the 14th.

Tickets for Saturday's basketball games (both are included in the cost) are $10 per person. They can be ordered in advance by calling the UC Athletic Office at 304-347-4820 or at the gate Saturday.

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January 11, 2017


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