Voelz seeks complex for two sports

Jeff Sherry

Last month the University received $7 million from the state for the construction of an indoor tennis/ice rink facility. The funding assured that the Gophers tennis and women’s ice hockey teams would have quality, on-campus facilities within the next two years.
University women’s athletics director Chris Voelz says it’s time to take care of the Gophers soccer and softball teams. Voelz has wanted to upgrade the two sports’ playing arrangements for a couple years, but the improvements recently became a higher priority.
“It’s on my list,” Voelz said. “What would come before it? There’s not anything that has to come before it. I would feel great to get that done. But I need a little help from my friends in the central administration.”
Several possibilities are being discussed, but they are still in the early stages. One of Voelz’s favorite options would be a combination soccer/softball complex at the corner of Cleveland and Larpenteur avenues on the St. Paul campus, where the varsity and intramural soccer fields now stand.
The complex would have adjacent stadiums with shared press box, box office, locker room and concessions facilities. Voelz said University architects have drawn up tentative plans, but getting the project rolling will not be simple.
The women’s athletics department would need assistance in funding the complex. Voelz submitted a request for nearly $3 million to the University’s capital funding budget earlier this year, but it was rejected. Voelz said she will make the request again next year.
The proposed location of the complex presents another problem because it currently belongs to the University’s Department of Recreational Sports. The University needs the approval of the Recreational Sports Advisory Board before the department will move off the land. Jim Turman, director of recreational sports, said the department would be willing to relocate its fields if another acceptable location was made available.
“We’re more than happy to sit down and work with (the women’s athletics department) to solve facility issues,” Turman said. “The only issue is replacing the recreation fields. The St. Paul campus and University communities would need them replaced.”
A shortage of available land makes the new construction difficult. There was a different plan last year to build the complex on the Bierman recreational softball fields, but similar problems occurred. Another possibility would be to improve the teams’ current fields, but Voelz said she’d prefer to combine the projects’ costs into one grand complex.
Voelz points to several reasons why the teams need improved facilities. Neither team has a locker room built in with its field. The soccer team is playing on land loaned from recreational sports. And the field doesn’t have a scoreboard. Soccer won the Big Ten title this year, and softball finished second. Both teams set attendance records in their home finales, which made the number of available seats limited.
“It seems to me that those are two of our really up-and-coming sports,” Voelz said. “You’ve got two great coaches and a great bunch of fans. I think if you give them a little space to grow, they’ll take off.”
Nelson, Hegland All-American
Gophers outfielders Rachel Nelson and Amber Hegland were named softball All-Americans on Wednesday night in Columbus, Ga. Nelson is Minnesota’s first player ever to be named first-team All-American in softball. Hegland was selected to the second team. Until Wednesday, Minnesota had never placed two athletes on the All-America team in the same season.