Times Staff Writer
Western Women’s Soccer — Change can be tough to swallow at times. However, Western Colorado University leaders appear to have made the best of an announcement last year that would mean relocation of the women’s soccer field.
Then, Paul M. Rady donated $80 million for a building to house the new School of Computer Science and Engineering. It was the largest financial gift in the higher education institution's history but also meant the Western women’s soccer program would have to find a new home to make space for the building.
Western Athletic Director Miles Van Hee started talking with soccer head coach Amy Bell. They discussed how at the time there were only three soccer programs in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC) with a grass soccer field.
This led them to decide to build the first turf soccer field in the Gunnison Valley. It will be located north of Mountaineer Bowl and is scheduled to be complete by Aug. 19, the first day of practice for the Western women.
“Having a turf field is easier to maintain. There are a lot of things we can do with it and plus there can be multiple uses for it,” said Van Hee. “We were potentially looking to, maybe sometime down the road, start a lacrosse program so we put lacrosse lines on the new field.”
Van Hee also noted that if Gunnison High School (GHS) football ever wanted to bring “Friday Night Lights” back to Western, university leaders would be willing to work with them to make it happen. The new soccer field also will have lights, making it possible for games to be played at night.
Still, he added that the Western women’s soccer program is first in line for use of the field, since it is being built for them.
Field to rival other programs
Word of Western’s new field has started to spread throughout the RMAC — even causing opposing teams’ coaches to worry that they might lose potential recruits to Western.
The new soccer field also will allow the Western soccer program to practice on turf — a big deal because the majority of the teams they play against use turf. For instance, the ball tends to move faster on turf as compared to grass.
“It's a big change in soccer to play from real grass to turf,” said coach Bell. “The game is completely different. So it's really nice to practice on what we are going to play on for every game.”
The anticipated cost of the field started at $2 million — the amount of Rady’s donation to relocate the playing area — with hopes of that covering all lighting, infrastructure, fiber and water lines. That sum alone is the largest athletic donation Western has ever received. However, due to the nature of where the field is located, it will cost more than originally estimated.
As a result, Rady and general contractor Mesa Properties came up with another $500,000 to help complete the project.
Parking will be located on the far north end of the field and will include 69 spaces. There also will be 28 parking spaces available behind the Mountaineer Bowl press box.
“There isn’t a whole lot of parking available up there,” said Van Hee. “So fans and parents might have to park like they do for Western football games (at) the University Center and Paul Wright Gymnasium parking lots and walk up to the field.”
There will be a five-foot-wide paved sidewalk leading to the field. The bleachers will be the same as those used on the previous field, and Western also will use the same scoreboard. However, a new press box will be built.
Additionally, water and sewer will be installed at the new stadium to clean the field and future trailhead bathrooms.
Excited for the future
With the scheduled completion of the field less than a month a way, Van Hee and Bell are excited for the opportunity the new facility brings.
“For soccer, this isn’t something we could have done alone,” said Bell. “We weren’t going to go out and be able to have a turf field, just by what we could fundraise as a program. To have it be done in a year, I have never seen that done and I have been a soccer coach at the college level for 13 years.
“They could have easily said ‘you’re going to practice here and going to play somewhere else and we will get the project done when we can,’” she added. “Now we are a team that has this amazing facility and I think that will push us to the next level where we want to be.”
(Brandon Warr can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)