At long last, Caniglia Field’s conversion from football stadium to soccer pitch is ready.
Three months behind schedule because of weather delays, and with still a few ancillary things to tidy up, UNO is nonetheless set to play its first soccer game on the state-of-the-art playing surface Saturday, when the men’s team plays host to Oral Roberts at 4 p.m.
“At the time we were going through it, it was obviously very frustrating,” said Mike Kemp, UNO’s associate athletic director for events and facilities. “But to know that we did it the right way, that we took our time, and that all the various companies that worked on it gave a great effort to rectify the problems that existed ... it was worth the wait.”
The UNO men’s team practiced on the field for the first time Wednesday afternoon, and the women’s team practiced there Thursday morning.
The reviews were sparkling.
“It was amazing,” said freshman Mark Moulton, a forward on the men’s team. “It’s the nicest field I’ve ever played on, no doubt. And the level of excitement at practice for the field being done ... I just hope it translates to the game on Saturday.”
The $1.4 million renovation included digging up the stadium floor for conversion from the crowned football field to soccer’s flatter playing surface. A wet spring and sub-soil problems pushed back the project’s timetable from its originally anticipated July completion.
Hellas Sports Construction, which installed the turf, is in the process of seeking two-star certification from FIFA, a relatively rare designation, particularly in the United States.
The “e-layer” under the playing field provides extra cushioning to help prevent injury. The turf itself is made up of shorter blades, with more blades per square inch than the typical artificial turf. And the infill of ground coconut husks and cork will keep the field significantly cooler than the standard crushed rubber used on most fields.
“It’s phenomenal,” said women’s coach Don Klosterman, viewing the surface from the athletic academic room atop the west stadium stands. “Just looking down there, it looks like a natural grass field.”
Besides Saturday, the UNO men will also play games there Nov. 9 against IPFW and Nov. 16 against Incarnate Word. The women will play two games at the new facility before the season ends — Nov. 1 vs. IUPUI and Nov. 3 against Western Illinois.
“As a senior I’m a little bitter, to be honest,” said a laughing Monica Bosiljevac, a midfielder on the women’s team. “But even though it took longer than expected, it’s really exciting for the school and the program.”
The rustic brick stadium in the middle of campus, nestled under evergreen trees on the north end, will eventually have berm seating on both the east and north sides of the field. The 21-foot by 42-foot video board beyond the south goal, originally installed for the 2010 football season, comes back into more regular use.
The location will help athletes who headquarter in the adjacent Sapp Fieldhouse, where their lockers, weight room, training room and academic center are located. They’ll no longer have to drive back and forth to practice.
“We had 17 guys come early to practice,” men’s coach Jason Mims said. “They’re still in awe.”
UNO is playing its third season of men’s soccer, while the women’s program has been in existence since 1999. The women’s team originally played home games on the old Ak-Sar-Ben property on what is now UNO’s south campus. Both programs have been playing on the former Chili Greens property, slightly further south, at what has been called the UNO Soccer Field.
The completed facility is expected to be a boon for the Mavs.
“I think its going to blow up,” Mims said of increased interest in the programs. “People who have come here and seen it are overwhelmed if they haven’t been here for a while. It’s gorgeous, with a great setting, a great scoreboard right in the middle of campus.”
Once the infill works its way into the soccer-specific, lower-grained turf, the field is expected to play fast, like a natural grass field.
Bosiljevac said she thought the field wasn’t quite as fast at the women’s practice as it will eventually be, while Moulton said it felt pretty quick.
“One huge difference is that the ball won’t have a bounce on it,” Moulton said. “That’ll be nice for us because that’s how we like to play it.”
After the delays, Kemp is resting a bit easier, waiting for the first game to play out.
“It was fun to watch the men practice there (Wednesday), and I was back out there at 7 a.m. (Thursday) to watch the women practice and watched the men again (Thursday afternoon),” Kemp said. “It’s a beautiful facility, and I’m very proud of it.”