One goal Kelly Sheffield set shortly after taking over as University of Wisconsin volleyball coach five years ago was to reopen the upper deck at the UW Field House.
That ambition will be realized this season.
The university made it official on Tuesday with the announcement that part of the upper deck will be opened for the first time since 2007, adding 1,040 seats to raise the capacity to 7,052.
Three sections running end line to end line on each side will become general admission seats.
The expanded seating comes after a season in which the Badgers sold out 14 of their 15 matches and averaged 5,980 seats sold per match, third-highest in the nation behind Nebraska and Hawaii.
“We talked real early when we got here about wanting to open that upper deck,” Sheffield said. “But we didn’t want to do it until we were bursting at the seams down here. We put that on ourselves, to have a product that people wanted to come out and watch and support.”
The ultimate goal is to see demand grow to the point that the entire upper deck is opened, expanding capacity to around 10,000.
“What we want to do is raise the bar,” Sheffield said. “We’re not going to be happy until 10,000 people is the norm.”
Work already is well under way to bring the upper deck up to code, with kickboards installed under the seats and wire mesh being added to the railings.
It’s a development that UW players have embraced and aspired to see happen in recent years, none more enthusiastically than former All-American middle blocker Haleigh Nelson.
“It’s super exciting,” said Nelson, now a graduate student and member of the sand volleyball team at LSU. “The Field House is one of the greatest places to play in college volleyball. Now that they’re opening the upper deck it’s just going to bring a whole new level of energy to the Field House that I’m so excited to see when I do get back for a match.”
Nelson said she envisioned the upper deck being reopened shortly after arriving at UW in 2013, even though attendance that year was well below capacity.
“I just figured the people will come, that one day this program will be a sellout program,” she said. “I just dreamed of playing with people on top of you from everywhere.”
Already one of the best environments in college volleyball, Sheffield expects that having fans in the upper balcony will greatly enhance the atmosphere.
“The Field House is the upper deck because you don’t see facilities anymore where the fans are on top of you,” Sheffield said. “To get to the point where we can have the fans right on top of us, where it feels like they are embracing and hugging our team and hopefully suffocating our opponents, there isn’t anything like that in our sport.”
While a generation of fans has never sat up there, Sheffield said those seats will provide an appealing vantage point.
“I know that’s a lot of stairs for some people, but for people who can climb the stairs, everybody has to view a match from up there,” he said. “It’s a different visual experience up there, one that I don’t think should be a less desirable ticket. I think it’s a totally different but powerful experience up there.”
Sheffield has taken his team to the upper deck several times for team meetings just to get a feel for it.
“It’s just such a cool view,” said sophomore Molly Haggerty. “You can see the whole court. I think everybody always wants to be closer to the court and see the action, but I think from being up top it’s cool to see the different view.”
That viewpoint made an impact on freshman Sydney Hilley when she first visited the Field House during her recruitment.
“I think it’s a really cool perspective up there,” Hilley said. “When I came here on my visit I went up there and I was like, wow, this gym is so cool. You can see that it’s cool from down here but up there it’s a whole different thing.
“I took a picture from up there and when I committed that’s the picture I used to post that I was coming here. Even though you’re not as close to the action I think it’s a pretty cool way to watch the game.”
In addition to the extra seating upstairs, UW is adding about 1,000 new reserved-seat sections on each side of the first balcony — sections E, F and G on the east side and Q, R and S on the west. That will increase the total number of reserved seats to 3,418.
Two courtside sections, F and R, will be designated as Prime Reserved, with season tickets priced at $100. Other prices will be: $85 for reserved; $60 for general admission adult; $30 for GA youth/senior; and $125 for GA family ticket package of four season tickets.