By Kyle LoJacono
Excitement was all around the Saint Leo University (SLU) men’s and women’s lacrosse teams Sept. 24.
That was when the Lions got to experience their new artificial turf game and practice field, but the thrill was for more than just for the surface.
Along with new seating for fans, a press box and scoreboard was the fact that they were playing on a field 10 feet above the ground.
The field sits on top of a new parking garage on the east side of the campus near the gym.
“Everyone was really psyched,” said Matt Obermeyer, junior attacker for the men’s team. “Not only is the field awesome, but it’s on top of the parking garage. It’s like the main exhibit of our campus. Everyone drives by it, and they see it’s brand new with all kinds of cool stuff.”
Obermeyer’s teammate Robert Hutchinson, a junior midfielder, added, “We literally could not wait. We’ve been waiting for the last three weeks for them to approve it for us to practice on.”
SLU athletic director Francis Reidy said talk of adding the garage with the field started several years ago because they were “parking challenged” on campus. He added, combining the two into one allows for 740 new places for vehicles while giving the lacrosse programs new facilities in the same space.
Women’s lacrosse coach Lesley Graham said she originally envisioned a field on a 10-story building.
“I was thinking what if I have kids who are afraid of heights,” Graham said. “I got really nervous, but when I saw the plans I realized it was going to be a phenomenal thing.”
Graham’s team got the first crack on the field during a conditioning session Sept. 24.
“I think we had about 10 different tweets sent out around 6 a.m. before our 7 o’clock conditioning practice,” Graham said. “They were so excited to get out here, and they’re really proud of the facility. They want to do it justice, play hard and show everybody we’re a force to be reckoned with and that we deserve this first-class facility.”
Brad Jorgensen, the only men’s lacrosse coach in the program’s eight-year history, and his players had the first official practice on the field that afternoon. He said such fields aren’t unheard of, especially with schools that don’t have a lot of land available, but they are uncommon.
Jorgensen said the biggest thing about the field is they won’t have to worry about it being torn up by overuse or destroyed by weather.
“We beat up grass,” Jorgensen said. “Just the nature of our sport is not kind to grass. Even the best lacrosse facilities that are on grass show wear and tear by the end of the season. I think long term not having to deal with resodding and filling in holes is really going to help us out.”
Hutchinson, who lives across a small street from the field at Roderick Hall, said the field’s regularity will be a big benefit.
“At some point you get divots and bad parts from it getting torn up where things aren’t consistent,” Hutchinson said. “We don’t have that now. It’s also going to help with recruiting. When you have a brand new field it’s hard to complain about anything. It’s pretty much perfect.”
Jorgenson pointed out they won’t have to worry about the lines on the turf fading as quickly as it does on grass.
“It’s amazing to be able to walk right out of the office to a facility that we know is the right length and is lined properly,” Jorgensen said. “I told my wife it’s a lot like having a maid cleaning your house all day, and when you come home everything is perfect.”
Obermeyer said all the players feel lucky to have the new field.
“Not a lot of the guys have gotten to play on turf before,” Obermeyer said. “Most colleges can’t afford it, so we’re lucky to have this to fly around on.”
Graham was especially thrilled because her program is entering its second season this spring.
“Being the new team on the block, having such a top-notch facility is unbelievable,” Graham said. “We couldn’t ask for a better facility. We’re definitely feeling the love.”
The surface is able to have two fields for intramural sports running perpendicular to the game field. Reidy said he envisions things like football, soccer, lacrosse, ultimate Frisbee, kickball and other activities being played.
“It’s a constant challenge as you get larger to continue to improve the facilities,” Reidy said. “We want to give the student-athletes and the entire student body green places to play.”
The field is just one of several improvements SLU has recently made to its athletic facilities.
A new gym floor was completed a little more than a month ago, which replaced one that was 42 years old. The soccer field had more than $1 million invested to improve the drainage and install new grass, according to Reidy. The athletic director said they are also building two fields on the northeast corner of the campus.
“Now our soccer coach can have a big summer camp, where as last year we had just one field,” said Reidy, who added the two fields should be completed by spring. “It’s also more places to have intramural sports.”
Obermeyer said the excitement around the athletic programs is sky high.
“Moral is way up, and I think it’s going to have more people come watch us,” Obermeyer said. “We’ve got the new gym, so people are going to go to the volleyball and basketball games. Same with us. People are going to want to come see the new field and see the lacrosse teams.”