By Bill Choy
Triplicate Sports Editor
A newly renovated gymnasium and a brand new season of Big 5 Conference play.
It's shaping up to be a week to remember for the Del Norte High varsity volleyball team.
On Monday, the team practiced for the first time in the schools main gym, which just opened that day after receiving an estimated $425,000 in renovations.
This included replacing the gym floor and getting rid of the bleacher seating and putting in individual seats.
Tonight, the Warriors travel to Eureka for the team's first Big 5 Conference game of the season. The junior varsity team will play at 5:30 p.m. and the varsity team will follow.
Last year, Del Norte went undefeated in conference play and made it to the second round of the North Coast Section playoffs.
The Warriors have not lost a conference game since falling to McKinleyville in 2005.
For the season, Del Norte is 11-8, having already packed in several tournaments against many elite teams from throughout the state.
On Saturday, the Warriors played six games in one day at a tournament in the Sacramento area, finishing with a 4-6 mark.
"I think we're ready," head coach Meagan Curtis said. "I think the tournament games have prepared us well for playing league games."
Curtis said the games leading up to the Big 5 season have given the girls chances to gain game experience, play against top competition, learn what they are doing well and what needs to improve, and built up endurance. Playing up to six games in a day does that, Curtis said.
Warrior volleyball player Jessica Morrow agreed, saying the tournament games have certainly helped the team, saying they "are stronger as a group. We're coming together as one."
Morrow added the team is determined to maintain its undefeated mark in the Big 5 and go further in the playoffs this year.
"We don't want to let down our school," she said. "We're capable of being undefeated again."
And being the team to beat in the conference, Curtis said her team needs to play hard every game or risk being upset.
"We'll be the team to beat again," she said.
Curtis has been happy with the way the Warriors have been hitting the ball and said their passing has grown more consistent.
She said the team is working "really hard in practice" to continue to improve its blocking, and to keep working on communicating with each other on the court.
After practicing and playing its first two home games in the small gym, Curtis said it's great to be able to conduct practices in the newly renovated gym and get a feel for it.
She has been impressed with the new court and said it has "more give to it," giving the team more bounce and causing less wear and tear on the girls legs compared to the old gym floor, which was a hardwood floor on top of cork and concrete.
The new gym floor consist of two overlapping layers of plywood on top of a set of neoprene runners that provide the cushion and "flex" to the floor.
Besides helping the team "physically" with a floor that is more friendly to playing volleyball, Curtis said it's nice to see the gym modernized and updated.
"It gives them a sense of pride¬óthat it looks like a gym from a championship team," she said.
Brigitte Pingree said she and her fellow team members can't wait to play their first game in the gym.
"I think it's really cool," she said. "It's going to be awesome to see the other teams reaction," adding with a newly renovated gym and support from vocal fans it will hopefully be an "intimidation factor."
"We're going to come out strong and show them what Del Norte's about," Pingree said.
The Warriors play their first game in the newly renovated gym on Tuesday when they take on Fortuna.
The junior varsity team plays at 5:30 p.m. and the varsity team will follow.