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.
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.
by AJ Barbosa
When he was young, Francisco Ramos couldn’t stop playing soccer. Though born in Lawrence, he grew up in Paraguay before moving back to the United States in 1998. He first learned the game in Paraguay and began playing club soccer for Avellino F.C., which eventually merged with the renowned Kansas City Football Club, or KCFC. He continued playing for his club and his high school’s varsity team until he graduated.
Now, Ramos is a junior at the University of Kansas. He occasionally plays in pick-up games at the KU’s Student Recreation Center, but he says the mindset is different.
“At the rec, it’s more about the love of the game than anything else,” Ramos said. “Well, unless you’re a scholarship player.”
Though he probably could have, Ramos decided against pursuing a collegiate soccer career. He’s not a “scholarship player.” He’s a full-time student at KU.
He wants to play more soccer, but there isn’t really anywhere to play.
Aside from sporadic pick-up games at the fields on 23rd and Iowa or short-lived intramural seasons, there aren’t too many opportunities for KU students to continue playing competitive soccer. Ramos is one of many students who crave such opportunities, but are left to settle with infrequent playing schedules and slowly-depleting skills – unless they play in an adult indoor league.
Luckily for Ramos, All-American Indoor Sports in Lenexa is only a half-hour drive from campus. He used to spend each winter playing at All-American in youth club leagues and played with some KU friends in an adult league last year. The environment is different – he’s not playing with any rookies, and adversely, he’s doesn’t have to worry about satisfying a coach.
“The playing atmosphere is just about as intense as you want it to be,” Ramos said. “Some games I’d get pissed off, some games I wouldn’t. Some got intense, but then others were laid back – we were all interested in soccer and just wanted to play it, so that’s what we did.”
Those adult-league games were a breath of fresh air for Ramos, who had grown all too familiar with the occasional monotony of pick-up soccer. He still plays pick-up several times a week – he met his adult-league teammates while playing at the rec – but he’d rather be playing against someone new each time he takes to the field.
“It’s always better to play a team full of players you don’t know than to play a pick-up game because the level of competitiveness makes the game a lot more exciting,” Ramos said. “You end up putting forth a lot more effort.”
Tyler Kalmus, a junior from Overland Park, also decided to continue playing in indoor leagues at All-American when he first left for college. He and Ramos have been friends for years and play pick-up together, but like Ramos, he prefers the turf over the rec’s hard floor.
“It’s a lot harder at the rec because you have a lot less control on a hard court and you slip a lot more,” Kalmus said. “I’ve just played pick-up there. I never been on an intramural team because they don’t use normal balls – they use felt balls that aren’t as good.”
Kalmus started playing soccer in kindergarten and played on a club for years before quitting as a teenager. Though he opted against trying out for his high school team, he kept playing with several friends on a recreational indoor team. Some of his teammates had played before and some hadn’t – a combination that created the environment he was looking for.
“In club, you have to answer to your coach – especially if you try to show off and get stuck by a defender,” Kalmus said. “In a recreational league, everyone just laughs and it isn’t a big deal – but we still want to win.”
Still, Kalmus says the often laid-back atmosphere of indoor leagues is more competitive than pick-up games on campus, and that’s worth the drive.
“I definitely feel like I was better when I was able to play more consistently,” he said. “At All-American, to some extent, there’s more skill but it’s more concentrated; there’s good individual players in pick-up but the overall talent is a bit worse. I’d rather play competitive soccer once a week than pick-up twice a week.”
Lawrence Futbol World reports from Lenexa on adult soccer leagues at All-American Indoor Sports:
AJ Barbosa: 30 minutes east of Lawrence in Lenexa, All-American Indoor Sports acts as a cold-weather refuge for KC metro area soccer players who crave a more competitive indoor soccer experience. All skill levels, from former varsity stars to first-timers, come to All-American to play in adult leagues each winter.
Aliesha Cassle:It’s eight games — you pay for eight games — so you play seven games and the top two teams play for first and second, the next will play for third and fourth. That’s how it goes.
AB: Fortunately for some, the leagues are divided by different skill levels
AC: We have novice and rec. From there, it’s split.
AB: In the more difficult leagues, frequent players and former players face off in intense games that come with a more serious playing atmosphere. When the offseason hits for local college players, some come to All-American to get some extra touches. They form more teams than you’d think.
AC: In our winter women’s two section, we can have between 5 and 10 in an eight-week period, and for guys, I believe it’s around the same. It just depends every year; it’s different every year.
Reporting from Lenexa, I’m AJ Barbosa, Lawrence Futbol World
By AJ Barbosa
Soccer Master, the closest soccer-specific retailer to Lawrence, has started stocking their shelves with Futsal and turf shoes as players head indoors for the winter.
AJ Barbosa: As the weather drives area soccer players indoors, soccer stores like Soccer Master in Overland Park have shifted their merchandise to cater to athletes in need of new equipment for the indoor season.
Stephen Hoffman: The market is really geared towards Futsal and we’ve sold so many Futsal shoes in the last two to three weeks because that sport is becoming more and more popular and a lot of the clubs aren’t playing indoor anymore — they’re transferring to Futsal — so Futsal shoes have been coming in and we’re getting them out the door quick.
AB: Stephen Hoffman has worked at Soccer Master for several months and says that, even though it’s indoor season, some clubs still play through the winter and outdoor cleats are still somewhat in demand.
SH: Right now it’s hit or miss depending on the week but we still get quite a few people coming in for outdoor shoes.
AB: Still, Hoffman says shoes for hard-floor based Futsal and traditional indoor soccer will continue to drive the store’s sales through the winter.
SH: We probably quadrupled our shelves with Futsal and indoor. Indoor shoes will probably be on the wall through February — the end of February.
Editor’s Note: For those who may be unfamiliar with Futsal, it’s essentially soccer played on a hard surface with a smaller ball, smaller goals and smaller dimensions. Indoor soccer is generally played on turf with hockey-esque walls surrounding the playing area. Futsal doesn’t have walls — balls can be played out of bounds just like in outdoor soccer.
Here’s a look at one of my favorite Nike advertisements that shows what the playing style of Futsal tends to look like (though this court is outside). Manchester United legend Eric Cantona brings modern-day star Thierry Henry to a street Futsal court to play with some locals. Beautiful soccer ensues.
By AJ Barbosa
His team was deep into a tense, tied match when Dylan Aul instinctively did what any present-minded soccer player does with a ball approaching and a defender on their hip – he leaped up, lunged the upper-third of his body to his left and fought for the header.
Well, that’s what he’s been told.
Aul, a KU freshman and Lawrence Free-State alumnus, didn’t make contact with the ball. Instead, the corners of both players’ foreheads collided, leaving them in a crumpled heap on the pitch below. Aul was out cold – he doesn’t remember whether or not his defender was, too – and was taken to the hospital upon regaining consciousness.
After running tests, doctors diagnosed Aul with a concussion. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, medical professionals treat approximately 135,000 children with sports-related brain injuries each year, including concussions.
Though losing consciousness isn’t rare by any means, it doesn’t always happen when someone sustains a concussion. They may stay awake and continue to play, though disoriented with a throbbing headache. As the hours roll on and their parents’ concern grows, they’re taken to get checked out. If the injury happened on a Thursday or Friday night, Dr. Sean Cupp usually sees them Saturday morning.
Cupp has worked for nine years as a sports medicine physician at OrthoKansas, an orthopedics practice three blocks south of Lawrence Memorial Hospital. 17 years ago, OrthoKansas began opening its doors on Saturday mornings to screen young athletes with injuries in a free clinic.
“Originally, it was geared towards high school football players because they play on Fridays and might have sustained an injury that wasn’t bad enough for the emergency room,” Cupp said. “If they wouldn’t know whether or not they were hurt badly, they’d be able to come in and get checked out.”
As years went by, OrthoKansas’ physicians began to see athletes from a wider variety of sports come in with a wider variety of injuries. Still, Cupp says that concussions are one of the most common injuries he sees.
Though sometimes don’t appear to be as debilitating as a broken bone or torn muscle, Cupp says repeated concussions have severe negative repercussions. That’s why he takes them so seriously.
“No one goes back the same day after they’ve been diagnosed with a concussion,” Cupp said. “They need full mental and physical rest until their symptoms resolve, and most of the time, that can take up to 10-14 days for younger athletes.”
The first few days after being diagnosed are often the most painful for athletes. Aul doesn’t remember many details from when he actually sustained his concussion, but without batting an eye, he recalls struggling through class his first two days back.
“I kept getting really bad headaches and migraines,” he said. “I had a lot trouble focusing in school and things, but it eventually started to get better.”
Aul’s coaches at Free State heeded the severity of his injury and kept him off the field for two weeks. Once cleared to play, he noticed an uncanny change in his on-field mentality – especially when preparing for headers during corner kicks.
“Whenever we’d get a corner, I’d get kind of worried about it,” he said. “I was still aggressive, but it’s hard not to be nervous after you just went through that whole concussion situation.”
No matter how much Aul erred on the side of caution after returning, he’d still be at risk of sustaining another concussion every time he’d step on a field. Cupp says that’s the nature of sports – the only way to eliminate the risk is to not play. It’s a tough reality, but Cupp doesn’t believe he’s keeping athletes from playing the sports they love.
“As a sports medicine physician, my job isn’t to disqualify a kid,” Cupp said. “It’s to qualify a kid to play safely without any long-term problems.”
Though there are times when Cupp isn’t able to qualify athletes to continue their sports careers, he insists that it’s for the best and there’s a bigger picture.
“As we continue to progress from advancements with concussions, I hope we create an environment for the individual where they can continue to be productive in life,” he said. “Whether that means they go back to playing that season or if they unfortunately never play again.”
Dr. Sean Cupp of OrthoKansas also offered his opinion on new concussion regulations in the NFL and NCAA. For more, listen below.
AJ Barbosa: After talking about head injuries in soccer, Dr. Sean Cupp of OrthoKansas gave his thoughts on concussion regulations in the NFL and NCAA.
Dr. Sean Cupp: The NFL has fortunately stepped up and acknowledged what we’re doing in the international sports community with concussions. Unfortunately for them, it’s been a litigious reason — they’re being sued by the Players Association. And also, an unfortunate matter was the previous head medical director for the NFL was more concerned about his own prestige than actually taking care of the players and he has been replaced. There’s trickle down from the NFL to the college and high school level, and right now, the NCAA has not stepped up like the NFL has; the NCAA has basically given the power to the individual conferences to decide their concussion protocols. But the high schools, at least here in Kansas, we follow similar rules that are being practiced by the NFL and the international sports community.
Here are your Monday headlines from Lawrence and the KC Metro area:
- Free State topped Leavenworth High 4-2 on Thursday — just two days after losing 1-0 to Olathe Northwest. The Firebirds’ consistency and stamina will be put to the test as they face Shawnee Heights, Olathe South and Olathe North in the next four days.
- A late breakaway and goal from University of Kansas junior Caroline Kastor in double-overtime saved the Jayhawks from dropping a game to TCU in Fort Worth, Texas on Sunday. The Jayhawks held a 2-0 lead until TCU rallied back with a two quick goals in the last ten minutes of regulation. Kastor’s goal notched a valuable 3-2 scoreline on a crucial road match.
- Sporting Kansas City clinched its spot in the postseason in one of the closest MLS playoff races in recent years. Sporting’s 2-0 flattening of long-time rival Chicago Fire was enough to guarantee the team a playoff berth, though home-field advantage remains up for grabs as the regular season draws to a close.
Before 2011, Sporting Kansas City fans in Lawrence lacked a collective identity. Bars rarely showed matches on their TVs, finding other like-minded fans was a struggle and, for the most part, the majority of fans made the 40-minute drive into Kansas City in their own cars, by themselves.
That was before University of Kansas graduate student Adam Crifasi and his friends started the Mass Street Mob – a Sporting KC supporters group that calls the Red Lyon Tavern in downtown Lawrence its home.
Crifasi, a long-time fan, believed a fan base already existed in Lawrence. After Sporting KC “rebranded” – the club was previously called the Kansas City Wizards – and unveiled the brand-new Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan., Crifasi decided to bring that fan base together.
“We knew there was a soccer culture in Lawrence that was disconnected,” Crifasi said. “Basically, the whole goal was to organize everyone so we could hang out and we could watch and love soccer together.”
The group started with a small group of fans, but Crifasi said that making Twitter account for the group was the catalyst in the group’s sudden growth.
“We officially named it and declared it a group around June last year but once we got a Twitter was when we first tried to get more people involved,” he said. “Within about four months, we were suddenly able to afford buses [to Sporting KC home matches].”
When Sporting KC plays at home, Mass Street Mob members meet at the Red Lyon Tavern for about half an hour before piling into party buses that will chauffeur them to the stadium’s “Member’s Gate.” Inside that gate lies the Cauldron – a massive section behind the north goal that serves as home for Sporting KC’s rowdiest, loudest fans. Some in the section are brand new fans; some have been around since the team started in 1996.
The seasoned veterans of the Cauldron have worked for years to help the section expand in numbers. Sean Dane, a Cauldron regular since 2002, took time to help Crifasi spread word about the Mass Street Mob.
“With the resurgence in interest in the team last year, we started to find these people in different markets outside of KC that believe in the team and wanted to be more involved,” Dane said. “It’s not like there’s an application process or like we say, ‘we don’t know if you’re qualified.’ It’s more like ‘how can we help you and empower you to grow support in the city you’re in?’”
Dane calls the large fan-base in Lawrence “natural” due to its proximity to the stadium – it’s only 20-minute drive on I-70 – and said the Mass Street Mob currently boasts the biggest numbers among other supporters’ sub-groups within the Cauldron.
“They bring so many people to their away-game watch parties and to the home games,” Dane said. “Whatever we can do – whether it’s money or other resources – to help these groups expand and grow is our duty. It’s the duty of the Cauldron.”