PHOENIX – When Arizona State hired women’s soccer coach Graham Winkworth in 2016 and Arizona State women’s lacrosse coach Tim McCormack in 2019, it was with an eye toward upgrading and renovating its soccer and lacrosse fields in 2020.
Then COVID-19 arrived.
However, when spring sports, including lacrosse, were halted in March, renovation of the playing fields, which had begun in January, moved forward.
In September, the school announced the completion of the upgrades and the project, which was a collaboration between Sun Devil Athletics and Arizona State’s Educational Outreach and Student Services, includes new fields for the soccer and lacrosse teams, and fields for intramural sports and the university marching band.
Athletes from the soccer and lacrosse teams lauded the new playing surfaces and other improvements.
“The preparation for competition and what is to come is just through the roof with the renovations,” said Maddy Hunter, a junior midfielder on the lacrosse team.
The teams shared the same stadium and previously didn’t have dedicated practice fields. Athletes from both teams said the wear and tear from two teams practicing and playing left the playing field in less than optimal condition.
Now, each team has additional practice areas. McCormack said the team is “taking advantage of every single inch of the place,” including setting up smaller games across the field which can take place simultaneously during a practice.
The Arizona Board of Regents approved the $15.4 million project in November 2019, representing the first part of the planned Athletics Village within ASU’s Novus Innovation Corridor.
The project also provided new lights and irrigation systems for the fields. The irrigation systems are something McCormack singled out and he said the previous fields did not drain well after rains.
“You’re not thinking about, ‘Oh, now we got to go inside,’” he said. “You just know our field is going to be in great shape. We’re going to be able to wake up tomorrow and get out there and be on it.”
Players and coaches agreed the well-manicured fields that are maintained by the university’s grounds crew, will attract future recruits.
Winkworth and McCormack said having their own field for their sport is especially attractive, and McCormack said a college lacrosse team with an exclusive field “doesn’t exist in many places.”
Their players agree.
“You can’t find fields that are better than this,” said Jessica Hale, a senior soccer forward. “That’s just going to draw a whole other level of talent, because people that are wanting to go pro, ASU would be a good place to look at just because of all the amenities you get coming here with the super nice fields.”
Olive Jones, another senior on the women’s soccer team, said the new fields are a “soccer player’s dream” to play on.
“Your touch isn’t going to bobble up, your shot’s not going to go sailing over the bar because you miss-hit it because of the grass,” Jones said. “It’s definitely going to attract a lot of great players in the future.”
The coaches said the fields could also serve other uses in the future, including hosting camps, tournaments, clinics and even professional teams if they request to practice on them.
“All of those things bring eyes to our university, bring eyes to our team, to our incredible facilities, to the commitment to our success from the best recruits in the country,” McCormack said.
Winkworth and McCormack both praised the support they received from the athletic department and they aim to repay it with their performance on their new, pristine fields.
“The fact that this department is able to finish what they started with regards to these facilities, in what has been the most challenging year in most of our lives with the coronavirus; the fact that they still moved forward, managing to take steps forward rather than backwards during these times just shows the mark of what quality leadership we really have in this department,” Winkworth said.
Arizona State’s soccer team is preparing to play a possible spring season after the Pac-12 Conference canceled soccer competition this fall due to the pandemic. And the ASU lacrosse team, which saw its season interrupted in March, also would play its usual spring schedule if the conference gives the go-ahead.