UND’s strong play and competitive scheduling are drawing big crowds to ‘The Betty’


David L. Dodds

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UND’s strong play and competitive scheduling are drawing big crowds to ‘The Betty’

The Betty Engelstad Sioux Center was hopping Sunday night, Nov. 24, decked from floor to ceiling with green-and-white clad fans.

The vast majority of the sold-out crowd of 3,142 came to see its University of North Dakota men's basketball team take on the school's hot rival to the south, the Bison from North Dakota State. And as time expired, the numbers on the scoreboard showed a solid UND victory, delighting the partisan crowd.

But it was the night's attendance numbers at the Betty that also had UND faithful smiling ear to ear. Few had ever had a chance to see UND's home to Basketball and Volleyball filled to brim. It was only the second time since The Betty opened in 2004 that the building had hosted a sold-out crowd.

Interestingly, the first time the building was filled for a game did not involve NDSU, and the official sold-out tally was even higher.

According to Ryan Powell, associate sports information director at UND, the highest-attended game at The Betty took place on Feb. 25,2006, when UND Men's and Women's Basketball took on the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs in a doubleheader. That night saw 3,192 people in the seats.

"I wasn't working here yet back in 2006, but in my five years at UND, that (Sunday's UND-NDSU tilt) was by far the most electric crowd I've seen in The Betty," Powell said. "Fortunately, our guys rose to the occasion and played at a high level, which will hopefully keep those fans coming back. Their energy played a large part in that victory and our players definitely reveled in the support."

As UND teams distance themselves farther from their transition years from NCAA Division II to Division I in all sports, they continue to improve on the playing field. That combined with the school's admission into one of the premier Division I athletics conferences in the country, The Big Sky, and the resumption of games with traditional regional rivalries has led to resurging attendance numbers at The Betty.

So far, apart from the UMD game in 2006, it has been the games against NDSU that have put the most rears in the seats for UND Athletics at The Betty (this is the first year that Men's and Women's Basketball are hosting NDSU in The Betty instead of the much-larger Ralph Engelstad Arena).

In September 2011, UND Volleyball made a statement by defeating established regional power NDSU before a then-record volleyball crowd of 2,394 fans. The next time the Green and White hosted NDSU at The Betty was this year, winning again in front of another record-setting crowd of 2,688.

In fact, that kind of fan showing at this year's UND-NDSU game, along with other well-attended home games against the likes of Iowa State, Texas A&M, Idaho State and Portland State, helped UND Volleyball average 1,130 fans per game – the most by any Big Sky Conference team in seven years.

The support also helped propel UND Volleyball to clinch a share of the Big Sky Conference championship and a high seed in the upcoming conference tourney.

"This is the first of many Big Sky Conference championships – our 2013 UND Volleyball team," UND Head Coach Ashley Hardee exclaimed to fans after the team's last win of the regular season on Senior Night.

The future of attendance for UND Men's and Women's Basketball also look promising, as both are starting the season with competitive squads and are facing tough but attractive home schedules.

The women's team will have its turn to draw in big attendance numbers to The Betty on Saturday, Dec. 14, when it hosts NDSU for a 2 p.m., contest.

Betty Engelstad Sioux Center Quick Facts:

• Basketball seating 3,300• $7 million dollar facility• Complementary architecture to main arena• Brick and precast exterior shell• Matching standing seam metal roofing• 50,000 gross square feet• 24,000 square feet of wood floor• High quality, spring loaded wood floor• Power operated, self-storing basketball standards• Power operated, self-storing divider curtains• 4 regulation size basketball courts• 4 regulation size volleyball courts• 2,600 padded upholstered seats with armrests• Telescopic bleacher seating for 700• McKinnon Company, Standford and McKinnon Families Club Lounge/VIP hospitality room• Brown and Bender Performance Center• Tradition area• Granite lobby floor• Large graphic & display walls• 3 home team locker rooms w/ team meeting rooms• Players' lounge• Players study classroom with computers and high-speed internet

David Dodds University & Public Affairs writer

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