In need of new playing facilities, KU soccer team excited by Rock Chalk Park

by AJ Barbosa

While she openly admits she enjoys all the new tutors, free clothes and tickets, Ali Kimura will tell you her favorite part about making the University of Kansas’ women’s soccer team this year is something else.

“I know how proud this makes my mom,” Kimura said. “Before each practice, I think about how proud she is of me for being on the team and it motivates me to work harder and harder.”

Hard work has long-since been Kimura’s bread and butter – a junior from Overland Park, Kimura earned a walk-on spot in head coach Mark Francis’s starting 11 this season after playing for the school’s club team for two years. Before that, she was a four-year varsity starter at Shawnee Mission South and still holds the schools’ record for career goals.

In high school, Kimura played on the turf pitch of the colossal, 9,000-seat Shawnee Mission District Stadium. At the University of Kansas, Kimura plays on the sometimes-choppy pitch at Jayhawk Soccer Complex, an unlit field behind Oliver Residence Hall with bleacher seating for 1,000 spectators – the smallest stadium in Big 12 women’s soccer.

City commissioners are in the process of working with various administrative departments and KU Endowment to break ground on “Rock Chalk Park,” a newly proposed athletic complex in northwest Lawrence. The project is slated to include a much-needed public recreation center, as well as new playing facilities –brand new stadiums and locker rooms – for KU’s track and field, softball and soccer teams.

The proposal is a hot topic for many in Lawrence because, if built, the city’s young volleyball, basketball, soccer and tennis players would finally have a free place to practice and play in the two-story, $25 million recreation center.

The recreation center at Rock Chalk Park may be a focal point of debate among locals and Lawrence natives, but University of Kansas student athletes who participate in smaller, less lucrative sports will likely also have access to facilities that mirror the quality of the gyms and practice fields of KU’s football and basketball teams – provided that the complex is approved and then built.

If things go according to current plans, the complex, to be located at 6th street and South Lawrence Trafficway, would house new stadiums for both the university’s track and field and women’s soccer teams. Students and athletes living on campus would have to take on a slightly larger commute, but Kimura says that’s be a drop in the bucket.

“Everyone on the team that I’ve talked to – including the coaches – are all very excited about a new stadium,” Kimura said. “I was talking to one of the coaches the other day about it and he told me that he’s been coaching here for 14 years and has been waiting for a stadium all 14 years.”

Even if things were to fall through, Kimura said that she and other team members feel the current stadium could still work – if it’s lighted.

“Since we don’t have any lights on the field, all of our games are held at times like 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.,” Kimura said. “That makes it difficult for us to get fans to attend.”

But if things go according to plan, a new 2,500-seat soccer stadium would stand at Rock Chalk Park next to the softball team’s new stadium and would be connected with a 10,000-seat track and field stadium. Lawrence Vice Mayor Michael Dever says that the track and field stadium would not just become the new home of KU’s team; it could potentially host premier athletic events at the state, regional and national levels.

“When we’re done with this, I’d imagine we’d have a facility that would be one of maybe four in the country of really high quality,” Dever said. “It would have the types of surfaces and amenities that would be very interesting to potential AAU events, the Special Olympics, and perhaps even [Kansas state high school] activities.”

A bigger complex doesn’t necessarily guarantee success, but Kimura says she thinks the quality of team facilities can play a significant role in attracting future talent.

“A new stadium would definitely bring in more – and better – recruits in the future,” Kimura said emphatically. “When you first go on your official visit and see a game from a small set of bleachers, it’s not that impressive. It would really impress recruits if we had a bigger stadium with lights.”

Still, the bright lights and grandstands usually aren’t deal-breakers to a player, and Kimura says there are more important things to consider when looking at playing at two different schools.

“If I was [hypothetically] shown KU’s soccer complex along with [Oklahoma’s] complex, I would be leaning towards wanting to play at Oklahoma’s,” Kimura said. “But the players and coaches are what’s most important; coach Francis would definitely had swayed my decision back to KU – even with our current ‘complex.’”

For now, to the chagrin of the project’s opposition, the public won’t likely decide Rock Chalk Park’s fate by way of public vote. According to the Lawrence Journal-World, the city is planning on covering 85 percent of the project’s cost by using revenue accrued from a one-cent sales tax increase that passed in 1994.

Today, city commissioners discussed moving forward with the project yet again in a city hall meeting. According to the Lawrence Journal-World, city commissioner Mike Amyx encouraged his colleagues to re-examine the project and evaluate whether or not it’s one of the city’s priorities. The project also comes along at a unique time when the city can build a massive facility like Rock Chalk Park for little-to-no cost to taxpayers.

“I don’t think the community is aware of the financial position we’re in,” city commissioner Hugh Carter told the Lawrence Journal-World. “The whole national conversation is about how people are overspending. We’re saying right now is the time to build something, and that takes guts. But we’re OK here, we really are. It is not doom and gloom.”

Is having a larger stadium advantageous to a team’s performance on the field? Check out this infographic that suggests having the biggest grandstand might not be as conducive as you’d think.

final infographic 2

Sporting KC’s Espinoza leaves for Premier League, Nielsen named MLS Goalkeeper of Year

Here are your Thursday headlines from the Lawrence/KC Metro area:

  • Sporting Kansas City midfielder and Honduran international Roger Espinoza will don the blue and white stripes of Wigan F.C. in the English Premier League. Espinoza notified Sporting head coach Peter Vermes of his decision to leave the club on Monday. Rumors floated around throughout the summer that Wigan was considering making a move for Espinoza in the summer transfer window, but the club will wait to officially sign Espinoza in the January transfer window — pending a successful work permit application.
  • Sporting’s tall, light-blonde-haired goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen earned the MLS’ Goalkeeper of the Year award on Wednesday. Throughout the 2012 season, Nielsen and the Sporting KC defense maintained a 1.02 goals-against average — the lowest and best in MLS history. This isn’t the first time Nielsen has been named Goalkeeper of the Year; he received the award twice in his native Denmark in 1998 and 2004.

 

 

LHS girls soccer team meets new coach, four Sporting KC players named to MLS ‘Best XI’ team

Editors Note: In the previous post, I mistakenly wrote that Justin Young will coach both the boys and girls soccer teams at Lawrence High School. Young will only coach the girls soccer team. The error has been removed and corrected.

Here are your Tuesday headlines from around the Lawrence/KC metro area.

 

  • Lawrence High’s girls soccer team and potential players had the opportunity to meet their new coach, Justin Young, after school on Monday. Young spoke on his passion for soccer and his experience working with teams at Pembroke Hill and North High School in Kansas City, Mo. Young hopes to lead the program, which finished 3-14 last season and has experienced perennial coaching changes as of late, to a state championship.
  • Major League Soccer players, club management and members of the media selected Graham Zusi, Aurelien Collin, Jimmy Nielsen and Matt Besler to this year’s Best XI team on Monday. Nielsen has also been nominated for the MLS Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year award and the league’s Save of the Year award, Zusi is a finalist for the MLS Most Valuable Player award, and Collin and Besler are the two highest-ranked defenders in this year’s MLS Castrol Index.

Justin Young named new LHS girls head soccer coach, Julio Cesar to leave Sporting KC

by AJ Barbosa

Here are your Monday headlines from the Lawrence/KC Metro area:

  • Lawrence High’s girls soccer teams will take the pitch under new head coach Justin Young starting today. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Young was an assistant coach for Pembroke Hill’s boys soccer team in Kansas City, Mo. The school also welcomed Jacob Brewer, the teams’ new assistant coach, who has had ties to the Lions’ soccer program in the past.
  • Sporting Kansas City will part ways with four players after declined contract options. Most notably, the team will take the pitch next season without former Real Madrid-star and Brazilian midfielder Julio Cesar, who scored three goals in 53 first-team appearances since signing with Sporting in 2011. Defenders Cyprian Hedrick, Neven Markovic and defensive midfielder Konrad Warzycha also declined contract options on Monday.

Vice Mayor Michael Dever: “Rock Chalk Park” for the community, KU

Lawrence is dubbed the “Birthplace of Basketball” by many, but for those who aren’t present for any of head coach Bill Self’s imaginably passionate pre-game speeches, or for those who aren’t University of Kansas students and subsequently don’t have access to Ambler Student Recreation Fitness Center, there aren’t too many places to play the game.

It’s not just basketball players, either; soccer, volleyball, softball and track and field athletes are at a shortage of high-quality competition venues within Lawrence city limits. Young athletes who aren’t playing for their high school teams or any of KU teams are seemingly left with just a few crowded venues around town.

This shortage hasn’t gone unnoticed by city officials, which is where the $25 million recreation center and sports complex tentatively named “Rock Chalk Park” comes in.

On Tuesday, city commissioners voted to move forward and continue to work with KU Endowment to plan the construction of the proposed complex at Sixth Street and South Lawrence Trafficway – about a mile west of Lawrence Free State High School in northwest Lawrence.

Tuesday’s vote marked a significant step forward for the project, but there’s still more to be done before developers break land. Vice Mayor of Lawrence Michael Dever says the affirmative vote is a result of to the city’s intention on building the highest-quality facilities possible.

“Due to a desire to have a high-quality environment [at the complex], KU Endowment is going to provide the land to the city at no cost,” Dever said. “In return, they want to make sure what we build is going to be high-quality and will be consistent with the facilities that are constructed throughout the university.”

Dever says that some members of the community have expressed concern over KU Endowment’s involvement in the project, as well as the involvement of Bliss Sports, a group KU currently contracts to build and maintain its athletic facilities on campus.

“We had opted for trying to find a way to build this thing without competitive bid,” Dever said. “The university wanted us to use Bliss because they’re already contracted to build KU’s facilities, and they wanted us to use Bliss to build ours.”

As of now, the proposed complex will feature a variety of indoor sports courts, a 22,000 square foot indoor turf soccer field, as well as three new stadiums for KU’s women’s soccer, women’s softball and track and field teams.

Though KU athletics will have access to the facilities, Dever says that the complex’s massive indoor recreation center will be fully available to the public.

“This is being built with the main intention of serving any resident in Lawrence,” Dever said. “The plan is to attempt to build a 185,000 square foot indoor recreation center that would be available to the public and could be rented or leased for volleyball, basketball, and soccer tournaments.”

Though KU’s softball, soccer and track and field teams would likely start competing at the complex once it’s built, Dever insists that the project isn’t just being designed to benefit university athletes.

“KU athletes can obviously use it whenever they want – they’re Lawrence residents, too,” Dever said. “But the intention is for this to be a city facility that would utilize joint parking facilities, joint drive facilities and joint outdoor recreation facilities.”

The complex could also give Lawrence soccer players a much-needed venue for indoor competition in the winter. Students who make the 40-minute drive east to Kansas City to play in indoor leagues could cut their travel time significantly if they’re playing at Rock Chalk Park.

“There’s going to be a [22,000 square foot] indoor turf area that will likely have the ability to be broke down into smaller, futsal-sized fields,” Dever said, adding that the complex’s basketball courts could potentially be used for futsal as well.

“Our main focus is to try and make more access to courts,” Dever said. “Right now, we don’t have many at all and we can no longer use [KU’s] Robinson [Center] for tournaments due to NCAA regulations. We felt that, as a city, we needed more court access and that’s what we opted for with this project.”

City officials hope that the complex will become a premier venue for national athletic tournaments. If the facilities are built to the standards developers are expecting, they could possibly host events like the Special Olympics and state high school tournaments and championships.

Going forward, Dever says city commissioners will continue to work with KU Endowment to draft a contract to highlight the agreement and fine-tune the design and construction contracts. They will also take a look at the project’s finances and if they will translate to the project’s development.

“The next agreement will be to determine what kind of facility we’d build and whether or not the cost estimate would cover all the potential costs associated to what we’d agreed to,” Dever said.

Renderings of the proposed sports complex in northwest Lawrence include a 10,000-seat stadium, softball and soccer facilities and a two-story indoor recreation center. Photo illustration and annotations by AJ Barbosa. Original photo courtesy of Paul Werner Architects/GouldEvans and provided to the Lawrence Journal-World.

 

Lawrence High players selected to All-State team, Sporting KC’s playoff run cut short for second year in row

by AJ Barbosa

 

Here are your Thursday headlines from the Lawrence/KC metro area:

  • Lawrence High senior midfielder Justin Riley and junior defender Connor Henrichs were selected to the first-team of Kansas’ 6A All-State team. Riley and Henrichs were the only players from the immediate Lawrence area to receive All-State honors after the Lions’ playoff run ended in the state quarterfinals at Shawnee Mission East earlier this month.
  • Sporting Kansas City was eliminated from the MLS Cup playoffs for the second year in a row by the Houston Dynamo, falling 2-1 on aggregate after a 1-0 victory at Livestrong Sporting Park last week wasn’t enough to see them through. Had Sporting scored another goal, the teams would have met in extra time, but the Dynamo’s two goals in the first leg of the cup tie were enough to see them through.
  • Lawrence city commissioners voted to continue pursuing a proposed athletic complex in northwest Lawrence tentatively named “Rock Chalk Park.” The project has drawn some concern from opposition over KU Endowment’s involvement. The complex is expected to include a 10,000-seat track and field stadium, new stadiums for KU’s women’s soccer and women’s softball, as well as a 181,000 square foot indoor recreation center that would be open to all Lawrence residents. Lawrence Futbol World spoke to Vice Mayor of Lawrence Michael Dever about the complex and will feature a story on the project’s future on Friday, Nov. 16.

Headaches top the list of common concussion symptoms, loss of consciousness rare

by AJ Barbosa

Though concussions are more prevalent in sports such as hockey and football, they’re still a growing problem amongst all other sports, including soccer. Organizations across the country, including the U.S. Soccer Federation, are focusing their efforts toward educating coaches and trainers on identifying concussion symptoms.

According to a 2011 study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, the symptoms of concussions vary across the board. Headaches are the most common, followed by signs of dizziness and difficulty concentrating. Only 4.2 percent of concussed participants reported losing consciousness, which backs up previous research that indicates concussions aren’t commonly sustained when someone loses consciousness.