Omaha is on the verge of becoming home to two of college soccer's finest facilities.
Morrison Stadium at Creighton University is widely regarded as one of the finest.
Now UNO is poised to open its own soccer showplace this fall as it rebuilds Caniglia Field, the longtime home for its former football program, into the permanent playing facility for its men's and women's soccer programs.
The project, which Associate Athletic Director Mike Kemp said is expected to cost between $1.2 million and $1.4 million, will not only put the teams in a picturesque stadium in the middle of campus, but will also have them playing on a state-of-the art, soccer-specific artificial turf.
“It will be a very unique facility,” Kemp said. “It will be a beautiful stadium with a top-of-the-line playing surface. I know Hellas (Construction) is excited about it. And there will be very few cities with soccer facilities that equal Morrison and Caniglia.”
The turf, from Hellas Sports Construction, will feature a lower grain that leads to a truer and faster roll for the ball compared to soccer played on football fields. And rather than the typical crumbled rubber cushioning, Kemp said UNO's turf will have a mixture of ground coconut husks and cork — a design that keeps the on-field temperature significantly lower.
The giant video scoreboard that was originally installed for football at the south end of the stadium is still in place. The main seating structure on the west side of the field will be utilized, with plans for it to be upgraded. Berm seating along the east side of the field, similar to Morrison Stadium, is in the works.
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“It's really about more than just the soccer programs,” said Don Klosterman, UNO's women's coach. “I think it's showing people the direction we're all headed as an athletic department and a university, and it shows the real commitment we have to Division I athletics. That might be the most important part of it.”
The facility will be used for practices and games, as well as for intramurals.
Recent cold and rainy weather has put the project slightly behind schedule, but it is still expected to be completed in July.
The former artificial turf, which wasn't wide enough for soccer and needed replacing anyway, Kemp said, has been pulled out. So, too, has the track that once surrounded the playing field. The former cinder block building that housed visiting team lockers and concessions has been torn down.
Some grading has taken place and more will be done — the soccer pitch is a flat field, while football is played on a crowned field, which slopes slightly downward from the middle to each sideline.
Crumbled rubber will be part of a layer below the playing surface that will help cushion the field to prevent injuries.
Kemp said the playing surface will be one of just a few of its kind in the United States.
UNO women's program, as well as its 2-year-old men's program, has practiced and played on a grass field at the former Chili Greens, next to the indoor practice bubble on the south end of campus.
“Our guys are super, super excited,” men's coach Jason Mims said. “It's a nice field at Chili Greens, and the guys enjoy playing there, but the setup isn't much of a 'facility.' ... Now we can be right in the middle of campus.”
Mims, a former Creighton assistant, saw the impact Morrison Stadium made at CU and hopes the same will happen at UNO.
“(Creighton) had a good following at Tranquility Park (in west Omaha), but as soon as we had our first game on campus, a couple thousand students showed up,” Mims said. “I hope we can have the same positive results here. Just to have something happening on campus on a weekend or a weeknight ... it could be incredible.”
Kemp said the facility should easily be the best among Summit League programs. Mims and Klosterman each said the upgrade hasn't quite started to filter into a positive factor in recruiting, but they expect that it will soon.
“There's a big difference between using your imagination and trying to explain it to them to really seeing it,” Klosterman said.
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