New athletic digs points to change for Westminster
July 21, 2006
Deseret Morning News
By Tim Peterson
SUGAR HOUSE - Westminster College is quietly positioning itself to take a bold leap into becoming a NCAA Division II or III school.
The NAIA Division I school has been busy upgrading its athletic facilities. The latest is an $11 million soccer/lacrosse field, complete with Nike sports turf, locker rooms and weight training facilities.
Westminster used the same company that provided sports turf for BYU, Utah and the Seattle Seahawks. The official grand opening of Westminster's Dumke Field will take place on Aug. 26.
The college has already completed construction of a new field house for basketball and hired full time Athletic Director Trevor Wilson. The private school seems determined to break out of its NAIA status; the only question is what level are they shooting for? "Whether it's Division I or II isn't clear," Wilson said. "That will have to be worked out by the administration," he explained. Those in the know say it could take between 3-5 years for the school to complete the move.
"This school doesn't do anything haphazardly," said head lacrosse coach Mason Goodhand. The former University of Utah lacrosse coach was hired by Westminster in March to spearhead the Griffins' newest club sport.
Joanna Barney was hired as the women's soccer coach. The school says by 2008 both men's lacrosse and women's soccer will be varsity sports.
Creating new varsity sports at Westminster is part of the grand plan to fulfill an NCAA Division II mandate that states the institutions must sponsor at least four sports for men and four sports for women, with two team sports for each gender.
Westminster currently competes in four men's sports (basketball, soccer, golf and cross country) and three women's sports (volleyball, basketball and golf). With the addition of men's lacrosse and women's soccer, the school would meet the competition criteria of Division II.
The University of Northern Colorado was just recently accepted (June 30) into the Big Sky Conference. Similarly to Westminster, the Bears are making the jump from Division II to Division I by upgrading their athletic facilities. A $16 million referendum was passed to upgrade the basketball arena, install athletic turf for various practice fields and plant grass for their women's soccer stadium. Westminster managed to fund most of the upgrades through private donations.
Administrators are confident that it will all pay off by attracting new students. "It's created a lot of excitement," Wilson says. "We've had a lot interest from within the community," he added.
The soccer field has attracted interest from Real Salt Lake. Talks between the college and RLS centered on using the field for the team's practice.
For now, young lacrosse players will be attacking the all-weather surface in an effort to master the fundamentals of the game.
The Griffin Lacrosse Camps finished the youth session on July 18 but coaches return for the school's College Prep Camp on July 26. This higher-level camp consists of high school and college-bound players.
Goodhand likes the direction the school is taking but says that the next challenge will be winning the recruiting wars with NCAA schools. "We're off and running - but when you get to this level, you have to get out and recruit," he said.