BLOOMINGTON — The alumni of the Illini Elite Volleyball Club are already jealous of current club members who expect to move into a new $3 million training facility in west Bloomington this fall.
The humorous point of contention is that the new building will have air conditioning, a luxury the alumni never had.
"Every former player that had to practice in the summer to get ready for AAUs said we aren't allowed to turn the air on in summer because it's not fair," quipped club director Andy Erins.
The club, founded in 1998 and owned by Erins since 2011, has used a converted warehouse at 3 Quest Drive in south Bloomington to train since 2004. That 20,000-square-foot space has four courts suitable for tournament play. The new 34,000-square-foot building will have six courts.
"We ran out of space in our building five years ago," said Erins, who has been renting extra space at Bloomington's National Guard Armory. "We wanted more courts and more space."
The new building is located on a five-acre site along Valley View Drive north of the Walmart Supercenter off Route 9.
"It's really convenient, a couple minutes from (Interstate 74/55)," said Erins, whose building will have more of everything: parking, seating and restrooms along with office and storage space.
Plus, there will be a concession stand, a pro shop and a training room. The six courts will be positioned with three on each side of a middle row of bleachers under a 35-foot ceiling.
"We bought enough land so we could expand down the road," Erins said. "We could add two more courts if we need to. I actually bought the land two years ago."
The $70,000 worth of flooring will have a Sport Court surface on top of a cushioned sub-floor featuring more than 24,000 triangular rubber pads (one per square foot).
"It's going to be a floating floor," Erins said. "It will save some of the wear and tear on the kids. It should be a good jumping surface."
Erins had toyed with the idea of a new facility for the better part of nine years. The new building's original target date for opening was Labor Day, but now an October opening seems more likely.
"We will be moving while we have programs going on so it will be an interesting little challenge," Erins said. "Where we are now was never intended to be a sports place."
More than 1,000 girls participate in club activities each year, 700 on teams and another 300 in camps and clinics. Players come from as far away as Champaign, Decatur, Mount Zion and Jacksonville.
Programs are offered 50 weeks each year. Erins sees an opportunity to grow by offering programs for first through fourth graders, whose participation has been limited by a lack of space.
Club shines nationally: Illini Elite, which has sent more than 300 players into the college ranks, is coming off a strong showing in last month's AAU National Championships in Orlando, Fla.
The club's 14 teams included two third-place squads: the 17 Cardinal team in the open division and the 14 Cardinal team in the premier division.
"It was one of the better nationals we've had," Erins said. "To have two teams come home with third-place medals doesn't happen very often."
Erins' wife, Michelle, coached the No. 20-seeded 17 Cardinal team to a 9-3 record in Florida.
"They stayed really calm under pressure, which hadn't been true most of the year," she said. "They really figured that out at the end."
The squad was led by AAU All-Americans Anna Hayes of Hartsburg and Savannah Matthews of Mahomet. A Wisconsin-Green Bay recruit, Hayes is the reigning Pantagraph Area Player of the Year.
Coach Joe Sanders said his 14 Cardinal squad, led by All-Americans Caroline Kerr of Champaign St. Matthew and Kennedi Burnett of St. Joseph-Ogden, also exceeded expectations while going 8-4 in Orlando. In 2017, they were fifth in the club division.
"We start after the IESA season ends," Sanders said. "We're playing against teams that have played 60 to 80 matches. When we get there, we've played between 20 and 30. We just got a little better every day so I'm really proud of them."
Other club placings were: 17 Black (13th in the 17 Club division), 16 White (14th in 16 Classic), 13 Black (17th in 13 Classic), 16 Black (20th in 16 Club), 16 Cardinal (25th in 16 Open), 14 White (25th in 14 Classic), 13 Cardinal (27th in 13 Club), 14 Black (35th in 14 Club), 15 Cardinal (38th in 15 Open), 15 Black (39th in 15 Club) and 15 Mizuno (71st in 15 Classic).