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Penza: Lithia Motors Pavilion's potential already on display

It took about 20 seconds into player introductions when the massive potential of Lithia Motors Pavilion hit me.

It involved the sound of the crowd bouncing off the walls, a student section right across from filled with student-athletes getting the first opportunity to cheer for their fellow Raiders in their brand new digs.

It’s easy to admire a new gym when you walk in during volleyball practice the day before or an hour before the scheduled start time as I did last week.

But once you see the spectators role in, the players come out for warmups and the music get cranked up for the first time shortly thereafter, you get to see what a special place Lithia Motors Pavilion can be.

Last Friday night wasn’t just the Southern Oregon University volleyball team continuing their fantastic early-season run with a quality win over a quality opponent in Lewis-Clark State (Idaho). It was a win on top of a wait that lasted 2 1/2 years since McNeal Pavilion was torn down. A wait that has seen SOU get a new gem for its athletic department that has seen so much success come its way in recent years.

As much as McNeal was a gym constructed in the mid-1950s, Lithia Motors Pavilion is the latest modern amenity to be constructed on the SOU campus. And one that is more than just easy on the eye.

Along with the $17.7 million student rec center that is equally impressive — and has become a necessity to use for the Raiders’ outdoor sports teams this month with all the smoke in the Rogue Valley — the new $24 million gym is easily one of the nicest places where SOU student-athletes will be competing this season and for years to come.

Initial reaction after sitting courtside Friday night: Money well spent, and this place is going to be so loud when there’s anything close to a capacity crowd.

Basically what I’m trying to say is that a small-college basketball gym that is as raucous and rowdy as it gets is what gives me life.

As I told SOU head volleyball coach Josh Rohlfing after his team’s home opener, I always used to judge the quality of the environment at my last place of employment based on how long it took for my ears to stop ringing after I got home from work that night.

Lithia Motors Pavilion has plenty of potential for situations like that.

There was an announced crowd of 875 at the Raiders’ home opener seven days ago, about two-thirds of the 1,400 capacity that is listed in the program. And while my ears weren’t barking at me around bedtime, the volume levels after an SOU point — and especially after each set ended in a Raiders win — were impressive.

The student section brought it, and was the clear reason why it was so loud in the new gym.

Even as the final rally happened, it was rowdy.

SOU dig, and an “S!!” came from the student section.

SOU set, and an “O!!” came from the student section.

SOU spike for the set and the match, and a “U!!” came from the student section.

Final point recorded and it was as loud as it was all night, a fitting way to end a pretty good night at the new gym.

Seeing this new gym, one that will certainly see bigger crowds as the volleyball season goes on and the Raiders continue to play at the high level they are right now, take on its own identity and become an definitely homecourt advantage for Southern Oregon over the fall and winter sports seasons and into the years to come will be fun to see take place.

It’s what makes seeing new things so enjoyable — there’s the ability to create an atmosphere how you want it to be.

Judging by the first impression, there’s a pretty good foundation already set.

And as I tell you about how loud it was for the volleyball team’s home opener, I leave you with this: If it was loud last Friday, which it most certainlty was, just imagine what it’s going to be like once the basketball season gets going.

Lithia Motors Pavilion is going to be a fun place to be to watch Southern Oregon volleyball and basketball — and not just because it’s all pretty and brand new, either.

Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.

Danny Penza/Daily TidingsSouthern Oregon University opened up Lithia Motors Pavilion last weekend with the Raider Invitational volleyball tournament.