FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Since 1997, Lumberjack Stadium has been the home of Northern Arizona soccer. From the Lumberjacks' first game at the facility in October 1997, a 7-6 NAU victory over Cal State Northridge which still holds school records for most shots in a game and most goals between two teams, to its most recent last November, a 1-0 defeat to Sacramento State in the Big Sky Championship, Lumberjack fans have witnessed it all.
But starting this Friday, the Lumberjacks will usher in a new era of soccer when they reopen the newly renovated Lumberjack Stadium as part of the Mortenson Mountain Classic.
"The new stadium is as close to a professional environment that our players will ever see," said head coach Andre Luciano. "The amenities in terms of locker room space, meeting space, video room capabilities are incredible. It's a huge advantage to have it adjacent to the field, and now we're able to concentrate on what we need to do on the field instead of having to travel all over campus."
The old stadium was initially torn down midway through the 2009 season and construction and renovation of it was conducted throughout the entire 2010 season. As part of the new $106 million Health and Learning Center, the stadium now features a new press box, locker room facilities and coaches' offices for the team. The field meets the minimum NCAA dimensions of 65 yards wide by 120 yards long.
Aside from the advantages that the stadium provides for the soccer program, the fans will also benefit from the upgrades. Originally seating 3,000 fans bleacher-style, the stadium will now sit 1,000 fans in individual seat backs providing more comfort during games. Also with the addition of new lighting, the highly popular Friday night games at Lumberjack Stadium will be back this season after an absence last year. The only two home games to have an attendance of over 2,000 fans, against Arizona in 2009 and against Nevada in 2004, have both been Friday night matches.
"The new lighting from a safety standpoint and from the viewership of the fans on Friday nights is incredible," Luciano said. "The seating capacity in terms of individual seats provides the fans a more fan-friendly experience."
Luciano also expects the new stadium to have a huge impact on recruiting.
"From a recruiting aspect, which is the biggest factor, kids can come here and look at the facility and see that soccer is an important part of this university," Luciano said.
When NAU christens the new Lumberjack Stadium on Friday with their 2011 home opener against Drake, it will mark the ending of an almost two year process. Despite the ongoing construction last season, the Lumberjacks still managed to post their highest home win percentage (.818) and host the Big Sky Championship. If that is any indication, the Lumberjacks still need to win, as pointed out by Luciano, to justify their new home.
"It's been so long that we've actually had an actual stadium to play at," Luciano said. "I think our players are very excited, but the reality is that the stadium doesn't make the team, the team makes the stadium. I'm hoping that our players can appreciate what they have and perform on the field to validate the facility that we have."