CRAWFORD | Soccer stadium opening brings bright lights to U of L - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Soccer stadium opening brings bright lights to U of L soccer

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- University of Louisville soccer coach Ken Lolla had his players in their brand new locker room in the brand new Mark & Cindy Lynn Stadium, about to take the field to practice for the first time on a Thursday night, August 21. The room didn't even have all of its signage in place, but the veteran coach knew this was an important moment for his team.

"A lot of what we do is preparation," Lolla said. "We wanted to prepare them for what it was going to be like when they walked out on this field to practice."

If you listened in the distance, it sounded like a game night already. The lights were on. Lolla piped in crowd noise. He had the staff turn on the electronic dashboards that line the non-grandstand half of the field. The jumbo-tron was on. Lolla told his players all these things were in place."

"All of that was to get them prepared for what it is going to be like," Lolla said. "The one thing we couldn't prepare them for is what it is going to be like with 6,000 people in here and the energy that creates. You simply can't duplicate that. It's going to be special, and at some point hopefully we can feed off that energy."

And how did the U of L players respond in that first practice?

"I think we did a good job during the training," Lolla said. "There were some points where we let them just walk around the field and take it all in, after the training, and it was tough to get them off the field, quite honestly. Everybody kind of feels the same way, you walk in here and you're struck by how nice this is."

U of L, behind the leadership of Tom Jurich, has done a lot of things for the so-called "non-revenue" sports, the very sports that might be in danger if spending limits are raised for football and basketball. Over the past 20 years, U of L has built a new facility for every, single varsity sport.

On that list are a lot of sports you don't watch all the time on ESPN. A natatorium, which is used not only by the swim program but the community. A track and field facility that holds some of the area's biggest track meets. A baseball stadium that has held historic NCAA Super Regional games. There's a boathouse down on the Ohio River for the rowing program, stadiums for women's softball, lacrosse and a field hockey stadium that has played host to the Final Four.

There are a lot of dollars, a lot of donors, and a lot of determination wrapped up in those facilities.

But none of them demonstrates Jurich's commitment to those sports like the Mark & Cindy Lynn Soccer Stadium, which will open with a men's-women's doubleheader tonight at 6 p.m.

Nobody spends money like this on a soccer program. Nobody has built a stand-alone soccer facility of this magnitude for a college program. The University of Kentucky, whose followers like to call their program "big brother," is opening a new soccer facility of its own this week. It cost $7.7 million. U o f L's stadium came in at $18.5 million.

The namesake of the stadium is Dr. Mark Lynn, owner of VisionWorks eye care centers around the nation, and his wife, Cindy. Lynn didn't play soccer. He didn't even watch soccer. His daughter is a swimmer at U of L, and he and his wife are alums. They wanted to do something to give back.

U of L associate athletic director Mark Jurich pitched them the idea of this stadium. He showed them the drawings. He gave them the vision. He told them if they wanted to do something big, this was their chance.

Lynn acknowledged that it seemed unorthodox. He barely new what the spot was about. He gave it some thought.

"We thought about it and talked about it and one thing led to another," Lynn said. "And we decided to do it. I called Mark up on his cell phone. They had already left town for the bowl game. I got Mark and he was on a bus, and I told him we were going to go ahead and give the $5 million. And there was dead silence. I started saying, 'Hello? Hello? Are you there?'"

He was there. He had just dropped the phone.

"It's really a remarkable thing," Jurich said. "The passion that people have for this university and athletic program, it never ceases to surprise and amaze me."

The landscape of U of L's campus is an enduring monument to that. I know something about soccer at the school. I was a resident assistant in a U of L dormitory for most of the U of L soccer team during my junior year at U of L. They were a rowdy bunch. The university probably would've been well within its rights to charge me for the destruction in the study lounge that came from kicking soccer balls in there at close range.

They played their games on a makeshift field next to the old Parkway Field baseball stadium. I don't know if they even had locker rooms.

The ground on which the stadium sits today was industrial. Students didn't go there.

Tonight, there will be thousands of people. The teams will sit in the easy-chair type of bench seating that you see in English Premier League games. The seats even have upholders.

"It's been such a great year for the sport already," Lolla said. "The World Cup brought a lot of excitement. And we're opening this facility. I certainly think it's a big moment for the sport in this city."

Opening night won't be a walkover for the men's team. They'll face Maryland, ranked No. 2 nationally in the preseason. It's also the program whose departure from the ACC for the Big East created the opening for U of L to land in a Power 5 conference.

When Lolla asked Maryland about being part of the opening night, they accepted. Lolla said it's been an extra challenge to prepare for such a big opener, with all of the hoopla surrounding the facility.

"It should have a lot of hoopla," Lolla said. "But now as coaches our job is to keep our guys focused on our team, and how we need to play. For a facility like this to have this kind of opener is awesome. I think it's good for college soccer, and for our fans. And for our team, it's important to have a really good game early on to see where you are."

Where is the program? It's in the nicest house on the block. There was a moment after the ribbon cutting when Jurich slapped Lolla on the shoulder and said, "Congratulations, none of this would've happened without you, the College Cup, all your work."

Lolla looked back at him and said, "I appreciate it, but I know better. The commitment you've shown to this program, I've never seen anything like it."

Just look around the U of L campus. The examples are all around.

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