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New soccer stadium taking shape

When the sultry afternoon of Aug. 28 trudges up to the dinner hour, DU soccer fans will be eagerly settling into brand new seats.

In fall 2009, the Pioneers will play in a new 1,771-seat soccer stadium that will sit atop a training facility for all DU Division I student-athletes.

Floodlights will power up and a new scoreboard flicker on. The whistle will blow, cleats will stab manicured sod, and DU will unleash a women’s team that won’t quit the pitch until they’ve blown the Gaels of Saint Mary’s College back to Northern California.

The next night, DU’s men’s team will sprint onto the turf and keep running until they’ve booted the Stanford Cardinal from ecclesiastical red to a pale pink.

Welcome to the University’s $6.7 million, 1,771-seat soccer stadium and conditioning complex, a new DU jewel aimed at kick-starting soccer to a new level and giving athletes in all sports a better way to train.

“Under the lights, there’s extra energy and extra passion,” says center midfielder Collin Audley, a junior. “That first night will be really exciting.”

“I don’t think there’s going to be a better place in the country to see a game,” says men’s coach Bobby Muuss.

Even the School of Art and Art History is excited. As part of the overall project, the school is getting a 12,500-square-foot studio on the south side of the Ritchie Center. The studio will help reinstate the Master of Fine Arts program and afford drawing and painting students much-needed space to work and learn.

The one-story, garden-level art annex is being combined with the soccer and conditioning complex for cost-effectiveness, says University Architect Mark Rodgers. The $9.2 million combined project is to be completed by late fall.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” notes Annette Stott, director of the School of Art and Art History. “Things that the faculty have been talking about for a couple years now become possible with this.”

Stott envisions classes in the annex by January 2010.

“It’s good that if you put in an athletic project you find some way to connect it with the rest of the school,” says Audley, who proclaims a love of art when he isn’t scoring goals for the 10-7-2 Pioneers.

In 2008, DU men finished atop the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and qualified for the NCAA tournament, falling in the first round to UC Davis 4-0.

DU women notched 19 victories, won the Sun Belt Conference and postseason tournament, and placed six players on the all-conference team. DU women earned a trip to the NCAA tournament but lost in the first round to Kansas 2-1.

The results may be a prelude to glory days ahead.

“We want to be among the best soccer programs in the country on both the men’s and women’s side,” Muuss says.

Being the best means recruiting the best, he cautions. It also means scheduling top opponents like St. Louis and San Diego State and attracting diehard fans. Being limited to day games in summer heat makes program building tough, he points out; televising night games and exciting fans make that easier. Hence the need for the new stadium.

“We’ve lost kids because of facilities,” says women’s coach Jeff Hooker. “If [a recruit] sees a university has lights and a great field, they think the school cares a little more about them.”

The strength and conditioning area will be tucked under the stands and will provide 11,000 square feet of training space for student-athletes in all 17 DU Division I sports. The aim is to build unity and help with injury prevention and recovery.

“Getting healthy, staying healthy and getting stronger together as a team,” as Rodgers puts it. “That’s competing at the highest level.”

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