Less than a year after a groundbreaking, the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College basketball team is already practicing in the main gym of the new Jeanne Knoerle Sports and Recreation Center.

"It's awesome," said Sierra Lopez, a junior and member of the basketball team. "It's just a blessing to be able to play on it and to be part of such a wonderful experience." She's part of the first team to use the new, $11 million Knoerle Center, which features an NCAA-regulation-sized gym that seats about 1,000 spectators.

On Tuesday, media were invited to tour the facility, which is still undergoing finishing touches.

As she stood on the shiny, maple wood floor of the main gym, Woods basketball coach and athletic director Deanna Bradley talked about a facility she's anticipated for more than a decade.

"Words really can't express it," Bradley said. "We're beyond excited."

For the first time, players get to train on a college-sized basketball court. "We've never been able to do that in the history of the school," she said. "It kind of levels the playing field for us." The court is 10 feet longer than the one in Clinton [where] the players have been practicing on in recent years.

The Pomeroy basketball team hasn't played a home game on campus since 1999-2000. But that's about to change.

The first home game is at 2 p.m. Saturday against Lincoln Christian University and the public will be able to attend. More importantly, students, staff and faculty will be to walk — not drive — to the game to support the home team. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place Dec. 3 before the team's rivalry clash with Rose-Hulman.

For the past several years, the team has practiced and played home games at a community center in Clinton.

In addition to college athletics, the facility has many other potential uses. "We have a long list of things and we're ready to just go for it," Bradley said. "We're anxious to jump in with both feet and start sprinting."

The facility has an auxiliary gym that can seat 200 to 300. "There are so many different groups that will be able to use this outside of athletics," Bradley said. "Having two gyms helps tremendously."

The facility will address health and wellness needs of students, faculty, staff and the community. Also, summer youth camps and other programs could provide revenue to the college.

Groundbreaking for the 45,130-square-foot Knoerle Center took place last December; the facility is located behind Rooney Library on the west side of campus. Construction cost about $8.2 million, a figure that does not include landscaping, technology and equipment.

The facility's other features include a spacious lobby/flex center; two locker rooms; an athletic training room; offices and the modern Club 64 fitness center, which got its name because of a $1 million donation from the Woods' class of 1964.

The 3,776-square-foot fitness center has new Life Fitness equipment. "This is a tremendous upgrade" from an existing fitness center in Le Fer Hall, said Ian Garner, SMWC director of sports information and intramurals. The entire campus community will be able to use it and benefit.

The lobby/flex center, which has 3,654 square feet and a concession area, can be used for different events and dinners, Garner said.

The auxiliary gym can be used for intramurals, and the first event there is scheduled for next Tuesday. It also will be used for the Pomeroy Wellness Program, which will benefit the campus community as well as residents of western Vigo County, said Jennifer Kersey, SMWC wellness and sports marketing coordinator. The goal of the Pomeroy Wellness Program is a healthier community.

The facility has blue accents throughout — the college's color — and the main gym floor features two types of maple wood. A higher-grade, lighter-colored maple was used for the main playing surface, while a darker maple was used around it.

Also in the main gym, a section of the wood floor from the old gym, which hadn't seen a game since 2000, is on display on the wall. The old gym was built in 1908.

Garner also emphasized the center's new technology, which includes several flat screens where games can be lived-streamed; the screens also allow for sponsorship opportunities and can be used for many other purposes.

The college's new volleyball program will start practice in the center next semester, and the team will have its first season of competition next fall. Other athletic teams also will benefit from the Knoerle Sports and Recreation Center.

The one-story facility has a masonry and concrete facade with features that pick up on some of the existing architecture on campus. It also has a reflection garden off the lobby/flex area.

Garner, who began his new duties in July, described the past few months as "kind of a whirlwind."

Bradley, admiring the new gym, said, "It's beautiful. It's absolutely gorgeous. ... We're excited. We think we've got a pretty, state-of-the-art, awesome facility now."

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at sue.loughlin@tribstar.com Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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