Men’s club soccer captain Ben Wang recalls a spring day last year when field space was so limited, the team held practice on varsity baseball’s batting cage field.
“There were just potholes everywhere, bumpy grass and some kids twisted their ankles,” the College junior said. “It was impossible to try to pass and play soccer on such thick grass.”
Playing on Penn Park’s brand-new turf fields this fall has been a much different story.
“It is incredibly nice,” Wang said.
Penn Park represents a similar transformation for Penn’s intramural sports program and many of the 37 teams that participate in club sports.
“Having a state-of-the-art facility that has the best drainage can be and having turf fields will make our program so much better,” said Associate Director of Structured Sport Michael Reno.
For many of the athletes involved, Penn Park means an end to the challenging search for viable practice fields, the frequent rain-outs and the scheduling difficulties.
The park’s three turf fields will be used for both intramural and club sports including flag football, soccer and ultimate frisbee, which will add an intramural league. Singles tennis intramurals will shift to the new Lynn B. and Clay W. Hamlin Outdoor Tennis Courts.
Opportunities to host more tournaments and late-night events will also become more readily available, Reno said.
“Not all of [the club sports] will benefit from the Park,” he explained, “but I’d say a great number will.”
And perhaps no program stands to benefit more than club soccer, a focus for Reno after the myriad problems the men’s and women’s team encountered over the past several years.
The list extended beyond just “inadequate field space,” said Engineering junior and women’s captain Sophia Stylianos. The fields the men and women typically used — Bower Field, Hill Field and Field C near the varsity team’s Rhodes Field — did not feature lights, making night practices essentially impossible. Some alternative fields did not even have goals.
As a result, both club soccer teams only scheduled one or two home games each season and were instead forced to travel for almost all of their regular season and tournament games.
Stylianos said the issues made practices a “chore” and had an overall “negative effect on the commitment of our girls.”
But Penn Park has turned a “homefield disadvantage” into a homefield advantage.
The spring season will start in February, a month before the usual start, under Field 2’s “bubble” structure.
When the national tournament — which the men qualified for as a top-25 team last year — begins in November, Wang’s squad will be able to practice past 6 p.m. thanks to the lights on Penn Park
Fields 1 and 2.
And Stylianos and the women’s team will look forward to practicing on fields of their own each day.
“Now we have such great facilities,” she said. “And that really inspires the girls to want to come to practice every week and want to come to everything that we host.”