Facilities boost women’s department

Michael Dougherty

One week ago, Frank and Shirley Capaci of Streamwood, Ill., turned in the winning ticket for the $195 million Powerball jackpot.
The retired couple chose the cash option, which left them with $104.3 million before taxes and a bar full of friends and family who were helping them celebrate with a few drinks.
At the University, meanwhile, another duo was celebrating a cash windfall of its own.
Gophers softball coach Lisa Bernstein-O’Brien and Gophers soccer coach Sue Montagne have seen their programs receive gifts of $2 million this month to put toward new facilities.
Bernstein-O’Brien, along with women’s athletics director Chris Voelz, recently unveiled the new plans for a renovated Bierman Softball Complex thanks to matching $1 million dollar contributions from John and Sage Cowles and the Minnesota State Legislature.
Montagne’s team received a $900,000 gift from Deborah Robbie Olson, as well as a $1.2 million appropriation from the Legislature. The money will be used to construct a new soccer facility on the current site on the St. Paul campus.
Voelz, who has had her eye on new soccer and softball facilities for a few years, was instrumental in soliciting the donations, which were two of the three largest in the history of the women’s athletics department.
“We are thrilled to be the beneficiaries, for generations to come,” Voelz said after the softball donation became official.
The proposed new fields add to the growing list of top-notch facilities that have marked Voelz’s 10 years at Minnesota.
“The Sports Pavilion, the Aquatic Center and the outdoor track, if these new facilities — the soccer stadium, the softball stadium and the tennis and hockey facilities — are anything like the others that have already been built,” Montage said, “we’ve got to have one of the best athletic departments in the country.”
The Sports Pavilion, which opened in 1993, is home to the Gophers women’s basketball, gymnastics and volleyball teams, as well as the men’s wrestling and gymnastics teams.
The University Aquatic Center, home to the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams, was built in 1990 and is considered to be one of the top three facilities of its kind in the nation.
With the new softball and soccer facilities, as well as the new combined women’s hockey and tennis arena, soon to be built, Minnesota has poised itself to take over as one of the top schools in the country for women’s athletics.
“I’d definitely have to say that we’ve got to be ranked number one with regards to taking care of women’s athletics,” Bernstein-O’Brien said.
Montagne and Bernstein-O’Brien said they think the new facilities will aid Minnesota in its quest to land NCAA tournaments in the future, something which is a huge recruiting advantage.
“Recruiting is the lifeboat of a team,” Montagne said. “When we recruit a student-athlete we take them to all the facilities and we go into the Aquatic Center and say, ‘Look at this beautiful facility.’ Then we take them over to the Sports Pavilion and say, ‘Here’s another new facility where our basketball team, gymnastics team and volleyball team compete.’
“So, I think we all just walk around and say how great it is because every time we show them something, we’re saying to the recruit, ‘Look at how much time, effort and care that you’ll be able to take part in if you come to the University of Minnesota.'”
Not everyone is sharing in the wealth, however. As various women’s sports are reaping the benefits of these recent donations and Legislative appropriations, the Gophers baseball team is stuck with a stadium that coach John Anderson said is falling apart.
“We’ve been told in the past that the University will not support any money for men’s facilities,” he said, “so I don’t think a new stadium is in the cards.”
Anderson has watched sports like football and hockey receive improved facilities for recruiting purposes. He cited the new weight room and locker room renovations for the Gophers football team as ways to impress recruits and help make the program successful.
While he’s glad to see sports like soccer and softball get new stadiums because it means money might eventually trickle down to his team, Anderson also said he’s not sure how much will be left by the time his number comes up.
Anderson added that the Gophers baseball program — which has 43 years without a losing record — might have a hard time sustaining its success if it doesn’t get a new facility.
“Your facilities are a statement of the commitment to your program,” he said. “For Gopher baseball to enjoy the success we’ve had over the last 40 years in the next 30 to 40 years, we’re going to have to have a new facility.
“Why are softball and soccer doing it? Because they want to be in the position themselves to have more success. I’m sure softball wants to have an NCAA tournament here someday, which will help their recruiting, and I’m sure soccer is the same way.”
Montagne said she thinks the recruiting ramifications of the stadium — a facility she called one of the best in the nation — will be extremely helpful.
She added while she feels bad for Anderson and the problems with the stadium his team plays in, her team has been forced to play in those situations as well.
“I love men’s athletics,” she said. “I mean I’m going to be right there in the stands cheering them on, but I don’t feel bad that we got this money because I look at where we’ve played the past five years. We’ve had to bring in port-a-johns and our players and fans have had to go to the bathroom in those port-a-johns.
“While I don’t want to see men’s programs lose out because of this, I also feel very strongly that women’s athletics should be able to play on nice facilities as well.”