Seth Poplaski, a sports photographer for the University of Maine, takes a selfie with the UMaine softball team as they celebrate the introduction of the new UMaine Softball Complex on Friday. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

On Friday, the University of Maine’s new Athletic Director Jude Killy and a slew of presenters introduced the brand new UMaine Softball Complex on campus ahead of the team’s doubleheader against the University at Albany.

UMaine split the doubleheader, winning the first game and losing the second.

Killy was flanked by members of the Harold Alfond Foundation, UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy, fan Kathryn E. Slott, and softball players Kelby Drews and Caitlyn Fallon as they all gave speeches before a ceremonial ribbon cutting to officially open the new field.

“There are a lot of keys to it but the impact on our student athletes is phenomenal,” Killy said of the opening of the complex. “The president talked about it, that this is an attractive piece to draw people to the university. It’s been a lot of fun and it’s always fun to open shiny, new things.”

Killy has already seen the new field pay off with players over the moon with excitement.

“The team got to the field on Wednesday and I saw them afterwards and I asked them, ‘What did you think?’” Killy said. “One player said, ‘We never want to leave it.’ The student athlete said she’s going to sleep here from now on and I said, ‘That’s good, because the dugout is actually heated, so you can.’”

University of Maine’s new Athletic Director Jude Killy speaks during a ceremony to introduce the new UMaine Softball Complex on Friday. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The UMaine Softball Complex is the first athletic facility on campus to be renovated thanks to a $90 million gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation in 2020. The field hockey field is currently being worked on and will be ready for the fall, Killy said. The next improvements for UMaine athletic facilities will include fixing the scoreboard and sound at Alfond Arena, working on the soccer and football fields, and soon working on the new basketball facility.

The new softball complex features a brand new turf field as well as heated dugouts, light fixtures and a press box behind home plate. There’s also a new batting pavilion, named the Kathryn L. Slott Batting Pavilion. The pavilion provides the softball team its own indoor area for practice all year.

Drews, a fifth-year senior, said the team is excited to play on the new field. During this past offseason, the roof of the school’s practice facility collapsed, which forced the team to find new practice locations.

“It’s super special, especially as a fifth year,” Drews said. “I’ve been here since the beginning and getting to share this opening day with my team is awesome. It’s something we’ve been looking forward to, especially with all the adversity we’ve gone through with the dome going down, it’s really good to be out here and on such a beautiful day, too.”

UMaine softball head coach Jordan Fitzpatrick said she followed the progress of the new complex was it was being built.

University of Maine’s brand new UMaine Softball Complex was introduced on Friday morning before the team’s doubleheader against the University at Albany. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

“To practice on it the last few days has been phenomenal,” Fitzpatrick said. “Also being able to call this our home has been special. It hasn’t felt like we’ve had a place to call home, so today feels like home.”

In her speech to the crowd that packed into the new stands behind home plate, as well as those watching on UMaine’s livestream of the unveiling on YouTube, Drews mentioned the significance of the university opening the new softball complex on the final day of March, which is Women’s History Month.

“I mentioned that it’s the end of March and it’s a month celebrating women and their accomplishments, it’s great that the first facility we’re opening up is a women’s facility, a softball facility,” Drews said after the ceremony. “I told coach Jordan this morning, I texted her, that I am very thankful to be here and play for you.”

Killy also acknowledged the importance of lifting women’s sports at UMaine.

“The equity and accessibility of all the facilities pieces we are doing is really important, and I think the statement that it makes is really important for our development,” Killy said. “We value all of our student athletes and their experiences, so there’s no better way to do that than invest in their sports, like softball.”

The complex will be a great recruiting tool for not only the softball team, but other programs at UMaine that can point to the new facility as things to come, Fitzpatrick said.

University of Maine softball players hug after the introduction of the brand new UMaine Softball Complex on Friday. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

“I can’t even describe how this is going to help recruiting,” Fitzpatrick said. “One, having more home games, being able to come look at the facility, people are going to be so proud to play on this and I am so excited to play here.”

As for the players, they’re ready to get going.

“I got my fifth year and somehow it all worked out that I could be here for this to open,” Drews said. “Grace [McGouldrick], the other fifth-year here, and I were talking about how we both got our bonus year and we’re really happy we get to share in this experience.”

Fallon said during her speech that the team wants to work hard this season to make its fans proud.

“When I was a little girl, I dreamed of playing my favorite sport on a field as beautiful as this one,” Fallon said. “I know the youth softball players today will look at this field and dream the same thing.”

In game one, the Black Bears were lifted by fifth-year senior Kelby Drews, who hit a solo home run in the fourth inning and in the eighth hit a walk-off RBI single to beat the Great Danes 8-7. 

McGouldrick was also 4-for-5 from the plate for UMaine. 

Albany dominated game two, no-hitting the Black Bears while earning an 8-0 victory. Kate Powers won the game in the circle for Albany, throwing six scoreless innings and striking out three batters. 

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Adam Robinson

Adam Robinson is a native of Auburn, Maine, and graduate of Husson University and Edward Little High School. He enjoys sports, going on runs and video games.