Coach Scott Atherley said when a University of Maine soccer recruit visits the Orono campus, he meets her in the New Balance Student Recreation Center parking lot and takes her on a tour of the impressive workout facility.
Atherley is a firm believer in the power of first impressions and he knows showing off the recreation center will give him a better chance of landing a recruit than if he starts by showing her the soccer field — which is located on the FieldTurf surface at Mahaney Diamond, home of the UMaine baseball team.
His tactics are likely to change after UMaine athletics on Wednesday unveiled a $110 million plan to upgrade its facilities, one that includes a new lighted soccer facility that should be ready for the 2022 season.
The Harold Alfond Foundation is providing $90 million while UMaine athletics is tasked with raising the other $20 million.
UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy said providing the soccer team with its own facility is long overdue.
“I’m blown away. This is transformational for all the programs at Maine,” Atherley said. “This will impact recruiting, scheduling, player development and community engagement.”
All 17 varsity sports will be impacted.
Plans also call for UMaine’s softball and field hockey teams to get new lighted artificial turf stadiums and, along with a new campus basketball facility that will house a strength and conditioning room, an athletic training center. The project also will include two domed structures, including one with a 300-meter track, artificial surfaces for the football and baseball fields, new locker rooms and workout rooms in the Shawn Walsh Center at Alfond Arena and upgrades to Wallace Pool and Memorial Gym that will provide new locker rooms for the soccer, field hockey and softball teams.
Atherley said the stadium complex and locker rooms will provide a top-notch experience for the student-athletes that are paramount to achieving and sustaining excellence.
“We will be able make the argument that this is the finest facility in the Northeast,” Atherley said.
UMaine softball coach Mike Coutts, a former Black Bears baseball player and assistant coach, called the plan awesome and said it is really hard to put it into perspective.
He explained that having improved draining, an artificial surface and lights rather than the skin infield and grass at Kessock Field is a game-changer.
Frost in the ground severely limits the Black Bears’ ability to play early season games and having lights will give them a better chance to have evening practices when the entire team is able to attend rather than having some athletes attending class in the afternoon.
Coutts said the lights also will enable area high school and youth league teams to use the UMaine facility.
He is thrilled the Black Bears’ basketball teams will be able to play on campus rather than at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
“You shouldn’t have to get on a bus to play a home game,” said Coutts, whose team will benefit from the turf surface inside the new domed facility.
Baseball coach Nick Derba is looking forward to the new indoor dome and the upgraded surface on Mahaney Diamond.
“I’m ecstatic. What more can you ask for?” Derba said.
Derba said it will be beneficial not to have to share the field with the women’s soccer team.
“Having your own space is huge,” he said.
Field hockey coach Josette Babineau said it is important to have a first-rate facility because a lot of the players she recruits come from programs with top-notch facilities.
The coaches pointed out that the student-athletes they recruit often already have a good idea about the facilities at UMaine because they can research them on the internet. Some place a high priority on having a comprehensive setup that includes nice locker rooms and workout areas in addition to a good playing surface.
Those amenities, in addition to the school’s academic reputation, can determine whether a student-athlete decides to visit campus.
In the big picture, having an exemplary overall sports complex is a valuable recruiting tool.
“It shows the school’s commitment to athletics,” he said.