Olympic Village would shed light on soccer problems

It’s the waning minutes of the Texas-Kansas soccer match on Sept. 30 at the Jayhawk Soccer Complex. Both teams have expended effort for 115 minutes — through 90 minutes of regulation play and another 25 of overtime — hoping to gain ground in the conference standings.

As daylight fades, the street lights in the parking lot flicker on illuminating the blue and burnt orange blurs of players on the field. Then the softball lights flash on and bleed over the concrete wall that separates the two parts of the Kansas athletic complex.

About 10 minutes after the game (a 3-2 Jayhawk victory), players gather their soccer gear and head toward the locker room. Their shadows extend out as they walk beneath the streetlights. Freshman goalkeeper Kaitlyn Stroud remembers that game. She said during the first overtime she had trouble spotting the ball and her teammates. By the second overtime she couldn’t see anything at all. But that’s the current state of Kansas soccer, the only Big 12 program that doesn’t play night home games.

So why don’t they have lights? What would such a project cost? And are there other, temporary, solutions? Kansas Athletics has answers to all of these questions, but simply put, they lack the money.

Money difficulties

With athletic budget constraints and changes near the top of the athletic program, it’s been difficult to push forward with other projects related to the Olympic sport programs.

“We don’t have what they expect them to have and that’s frustrating because we have the locker room and everything as good as it can be,” Kansas senior associate athletics director Sean Lester said. “Everything is perfect that’s the only thing missing.”

As part of a 2009 master plan, the Kansas athletic department anticipated lights and the relocation of the soccer stadium would be a part of a $24.6 million KU Olympic Village south of Allen Fieldhouse. Plans for the village include separate soccer, track, and softball stadiums. Only the softball stadium is set in its permanent location. There is no projected date of completion for the other two stadiums.

Lester said the soccer field will eventually move from its current location, so spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on lights would be counter productive. Eight of the other nine teams in the Big 12 all have permanent lighting systems at their soccer complexes.

Iowa State was one of the last schools to get lighting on its stadium. According to Cyclones.com, the soccer-specific facility was upgraded with the $170,000 installation of a permanent lighting system in 2004.

Recruiting Hindrance

When asked about the lack of lighting, Kansas soccer coach Mark Francis expressed his concern over the inability to play night matches.

“We are at a huge disadvantage, recruiting wise is really where it hurts us the most because we have a great locker room. We have a great weight room. We have unbelievable academic support, and so they get all that when you do the visit,” Francis said.

“But when they come out to your game at five o’clock or four o’clock or three o’clock. They’re like ‘holy cow’ this is not at the same level as the rest of it.”

Playing during the nighttime experience is not just something the coaches want, but also the players.

“I feel like it would be a really great addition to our stadium. It will be a lot fun to play in the night,” Stroud said. “It’s a lot more exciting when you play at night, and it’s just that mentality when you get under there and you play.

“It really does get you pumped up and ready to play, and it would be cool to be playing in the same home advantage under the lights.”

Francis discussed with Lester the option of bringing in temporary lighting for games prior to the season, but the cost was far too expensive. Musco Lighting sales representative Brad Thompson stated in an e-mail that the cost of temporary lighting varies.

“As you would expect the costs, equipment and installation of any project are going to be driven by the size of the field, the desired light level of that field and many others factors,” Thompson said in an e-mail. “We work very close with many customers and so many things can change each and every project that it would be best to say that there is no norm on permanent or temporary lighting.”

Moving locations

Another option for the program could be moving its games out of the Jayhawk Soccer Complex and onto the nearby Lawrence High School field that recently underwent soccer renovations. According to Lawrence High athletic director Ron Commons, Lawrence Free State High School and Lawrence High received around $14 million to upgrade soccer, football, softball, and baseball facilities. But Commons said that is not an option at this point.

“Unfortunately we would not be able to allow them to use our lights,” Commons said. “That’s part of the settlement agreement with the neighborhood association and the school district.”

When asked about moving games off the Lawrence campus, Lester said it would take away from the home field advantage.

“My personal opinion, not speaking for Kansas Athletics is that if you’re going to compete, you want to compete at home, period. Whether you’re competing at 4 p.m. or 6 p.m.,” Lester said.

So for now Kansas soccer is stuck in its current situation, but the hope is it can move forward with the project in the near future.

“We’re diving deep into what we know needs to get done,” Lester said. “Which is the Olympic Village and our AD Sheahon (Zenger) there is no question that the project that he wants to announce is the Olympic Village.”

— Edited by Josh Kantor, originally published Tuesday, November 8, on Kansan.com

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Assistant soccer coach walks the talk

Coaches wish they were still players.

They miss putting on the jersey. They miss standing at midfield before the game as the national anthem plays and their adrenaline begins to build.

And they miss scraping and clawing for every minute because they don’t want to leave behind any regrets.

Jessica Smith, 26, represented all these qualities when she played at Kansas between 2002-2005. Now, in her first year as a full-time assistant coach, she’s hoping to pass on those same traits to the current Jayhawks

“As a coach, things are a lot different and as a player you don’t realize all that goes into being a coach,” Smith said. “It’s been fun seeing the other side of it.”

A team captain for two years at Kansas, Smith’s passion for coaching started when she helped run the youth soccer camps.

“She’s lived it and breathed it,” coach Mark Francis said. “So I think it’s easy for her to translate it, especially to recruiting, because she’s been here and done it.”

Other than recruiting, Smith also occasionally shows her soccer skills by scrimmaging with the players during practice.

“I think we practiced Saturday and she had every single goal on our team,” senior forward Kelsey Clifton said. “You’d think she wouldn’t be as good since she hasn’t played in a while, but she’s awesome.”

Although Smith crushes the competition in practice, it’s a little more taxing physically than in her playing days.

“At the end of the day, in my heart, I’m a soccer player and I always will be,” Smith said. “It’s just now my body isn’t working quite as well as it did when I was in college.”

Kansas’ players realize the reason she plays so hard against them in practice is to improve the team.

“She makes it really competitive but also helps you out when you’re playing to know what you did wrong,” freshman midfielder Kelsey Lyden said.

After leaving the program upon graduation in 2006, Smith coached in the Kansas City area before coming back to Kansas in 2009 as a volunteer coach.

In her current position, she works with the Jayhawks with a hands-on coaching style. Throughout the week she teaches players during individual workouts and is a constant presence around the program.

“She knows if we’re having an off drill or something,” senior midfielder Jordyn Perdue said. “But she also knows how to crack a joke and get us to smile and relax. She’s a leader, and she wants to win, and you can work hard for someone like that.”

Fine-tuning the players during the one-on-one sessions are an enjoyable part of Smith’s job.

“How do you bring these elite athletes to their full potential and get them to the next level?” Smith said. “You have to be creative and figure out all sides of the game and figure out ways to keep pushing them to get better.”

In addition, the individual workouts are beneficial to the players because they are able to open up with Smith on more than just soccer.

“She can relate to all of us as individuals and soccer players,” Clifton said. “She’s someone we can go to for anything whether it be personal life or on the soccer field.”

As the Jayhawks move deeper into conference play, Kansas can also rely on Smith’s experience in the postseason. She was a member of the program’s first Big 12 regular-season championship in 2004.

Even with her long list of accomplishments, Smith doesn’t like to talk about her glory days unless it helps the team.

“There’s time when I do talk about my experience,” Smith said. “But really I want to have them to build their own experience.”

— Edited by Jayson Jenks, originally published Wednesday, September 28, 2011 in the University Daily Kansan