When Arizona State hired Graham Winkworth as soccer coach in 2016 and Tim McCormack as lacrosse coach in 2019, both were promised that facilities upgrades for their teams were coming.
Once Karsten Golf Course closed in May 2019 and that land cleared for Novus Innovation Corridor development, ASU athletics could make good on its word given space now available east of Sun Devil Soccer Stadium for additional fields.
In November 2019, the Arizona Board of Regents approved a $15.4-million project funded by university reserves that would benefit not only athletics but all students with creation of a 300,000-square-foot grass area designated for student recreational use.
The intramural area, which can be configured as multiple fields for a variety of uses and will officially open Oct. 15, is just north of the artificial turf field with separate parking accessed via Dorsey Lane.
“This is yet another example of how different arms of the university can work together to make the student experience fantastic,” ASU Vice President for Athletics Ray Anderson said of teaming with Educational Outreach and Student Services on the project.
ASU has more than 50,000 students on its Tempe campus and was in dire need of more recreational space than what is available adjacent to the Sun Devil Fitness Complex.
“With a vast amount of intramurals, clubs and leagues at ASU, it became apparent that we needed additional space in Tempe,” said Julie Kipper, Sun Devil Fitness & Wellness executive director. “It worked out to be the perfect design and set up for students and the athletes.”
ASU soccer and lacrosse — added as a varsity sport in 2018 — play games in the same stadium but until now did not have practice fields, making it difficult to keep the stadium field in elite condition.
Brian Johnson, ASU athletic grounds facilities manager, and his crew supervised the Bermuda sod installation on the stadium and grass practice fields. Johnson is renowned for his work at Sun Devil Stadium and on Super Bowl fields.
“It’s nice having a (practice) field that is yours, just for your sport,” Winkworth said. “We have the best grounds crew in the nation. The first question people ask when they see the stadium field is is that turf. That shows how good it really is as a playing surface.”
During 2020-21, soccer and lacrosse will be playing games in the spring because of the coronavirus pandemic forcing fall sports including soccer to be postponed. That could create scheduling issues forcing some games to be played other than in the stadium.
The artificial turf field is lined for football, soccer and lacrosse and can be used not only in bad weather but to prepare for road games on a similar surface. It also will be utilized by the Sun Devil marching band.
McCormack, in his second year as lacrosse coach, said he heard about the fields project when interviewing for the ASU job while he was an assistant coach at Northwestern.
“I’m thinking this is a 3- or 4-year project that will get done eventually,” he said. “Fast forward to April,” when work began after spring sports were canceled due to COVID. “You can’t imagine what that’s done for the energy of our group, especially going through what we’ve gone through,” with the pandemic.
“It’s just a reflection of our administration’s support for all teams. That’s something Ray Anderson told me in my interview, his vision of success across the board, and he’s followed through 100 percent. Both surfaces (practice and stadium) are unbeatable. These are some of the best fields in the country.”
Winkworth said Anderson “talked about looking after the people within the department even in times of adversity. Our facility is evident of that.”
Both coaches believe the facility upgrades will make a different in recruiting even if for now that work is being done virtually.
“I come from the south where the biggest schools have remarkable facilities,” said Winkworth, at South Alabama and North Alabama before ASU. “Having a playing surface like we’ve got and separate practice facilities is a great selling point for us.”
McCormack said, “Having these facilities up is unbelievable. It reiterates the message of coming to a place where they value what we do. You can’t say that for everybody.”
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or 602-444-8053. Follow him on Twitter @jeffmetcalfe.
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