Created:Saturday, February 9, 2013 11:59 p.m.CDT
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Rockets anxious to stretch out in new, expanded gymnasium

The Richmond-Burton girls varsity basketball team practices on the school’s single court during its one-hour time slot before the boys team’s practice Wednesday in Richmond. Behind the plastic curtain is the new addition to the gymnasium that is set to open this spring. The new addition will have 10 basketball hoops, making it easier for the school’s numerous sports teams to share the space. (Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)

RICHMOND – Hammers pounded away, the sound echoing off the walls.

Separated by a ceiling to floor tarp, Richmond-Burton’s varsity girls basketball players, taking turns, stepped to the line to attempt free throws as noise resonated in the background.

R-B coach Courtney LuDois and the Rockets have endured these daily distractions throughout the season, but those disruptions are about to become a potential turning point for R-B.

After months of work and planning, R-B’s new gymnasium, which is about 20,000-square feet, is expected to be finished this spring. School officials asked that the facility not be photographed until it was complete.

Once complete, the Rockets will have an additional 10 basketball hoops, three basketball courts – including one for varsity – and ample space.

“It’s neat to kind of see it all come together,” athletic director Pat Elder said. “For our winter sports, and beginning practices of spring sports, it’s going to allow scheduling to be a much better process. They’re going to be able to get more time and do more things.”

The expanded space – the area used to be an empty grass lot – ends the Rockets’ use of only one basketball court. At one point this season, seven teams needed to use the court on the same day: three boys basketball teams, three girls basketball teams and the volleyball team.

“I think the kids are excited to play in a nice gym,” LuDois said. “They get pumped up. They’re ready to take ownership of it, especially since it’s new. It’s going to be theirs. They’re going to want to protect it.”

More often than they would like, the Rockets have one hour after school to squeeze in practice. The freshman and sophomore girls teams must practice at 6 a.m., and once this season the varsity girls team had to practice at a middle school because too many teams needed the gym.

Shooting drills often are a casualty, especially the day before a game, when implementing game plans and preparing for their opponent is the priority. Finding that balance between working on strategy or skill is one of LuDois’ biggest challenges.

“We don’t have gym space to get extra shots up, so there’s a lot of times where we can only do game prep,” LuDois said. “And that’s hard because we really need to work on our shooting. That’s the one thing that’s plaguing us so far. We try to get a balance, but a lot of times we can only focus on game prep.”

When R-B does manage to get adequate gym time, it can be difficult hearing each other over the din of the workers, which frustrates coaches and players. But even if R-B had more gym space and time without distractions, LuDois said she doesn’t believe that it would have drastically changed the Rockets’ record (14-11, 8-4 Big Northern Conference East Division).

However, LuDois did say she believes her team would shoot much better and exhibit better fundamental skills during games.

“I don’t think I’d be a different player, but I think we’d have a lot more time to work on skills and get more practice in like shooting and dribbling,” senior guard Alex Callanan said of getting more practice time. “Even if we have an hour practice or two hour practice, we still come in trying to be focused and work hard each practice.”

Although R-B’s seniors won’t get to enjoy the spacious new basketball court, it’s hard to deny the positive boost the upgrades will give the program. The Rockets likely will submit requests to host postseason games as well as hosting in-season tournaments, and during the summer, camps can run with all levels playing at the same time.

“It’s definitely exciting,” Callanan said. “Everyone goes and walks over there and looks to see how far they’ve gotten and what’s coming in new. It stinks for the seniors because we don’t get to use it, but I’m sure we’ll come back and visit the school so we’ll get to see it when it’s done.”