griz soccer field

Photo: GoGriz.com

MISSOULA - The Grizzly soccer team says proceeds from last summer's sold-out Pearl Jam show at Washington-Grizzly Stadium is paying most of the bill for a new playing surface this year.

A Griz athletics release says the $180,000 project to renovate the field at South Campus Stadium kicks off this month.

UM says the field was considered state-of-the-art in 1995, but has seen many years of wear and tear. This month, crews will upgrade the irrigation system and install new turf.

Check out UM's enthusiastic press release in full:

The buzz of last August, when Pearl Jam thrilled a sellout crowd at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, has since receded, but the lasting impact of that special night carries on in unexpected ways. 

The playing surface at South Campus Stadium, home of the Montana soccer team, is getting not just a superficial improvement this month. It’s getting a total makeover.

And the cost of the project, in the ballpark of $180,000, is being paid almost entirely out of the money made by the Department of Athletics for its role in hosting the Pearl Jam concert.

“Literally all the money we’re using on the soccer field is Pearl Jam money,” said Ryan Martin, the department’s associate AD for business operations.

“The money came in and went right into the account that’s paying for the soccer field. It’s due 100 percent because of Pearl Jam, which is awesome.”

The field was considered one of the best in the region when it debuted in 1995, in time for Montana’s second season as a program.

What followed was more than two decades of natural wear and tear. Preventive maintenance could only do so much to slow it down.

The toll of practices, matches and camps, held in all types of weather, began to show more and more in recent years.

The playing surface was uneven. The grass could only be cut to a certain height. Sections would be soggy while others, just a few steps away, were dry and hard. Injuries were an ongoing threat.

Had it gone unaddressed, it would have put Montana at a competitive disadvantage. Other coaches said they wouldn’t return unless improvements were made. The health of their players was too important.

But to make things right, it had to be an all-in project. The time for half-measures had passed.

“We’ve known about it for a while now. No one ever denied it or discounted it. But it’s something you can’t do in phases. It’s all or nothing, and we didn’t have $180,000 sitting around,” said Martin.

Until the money was there, thanks to last summer’s concert.

“I’m exceptionally grateful we have the support of the administration, who looked at that money and asked, Okay, what do we want to work on right now? For them to pick us is amazing,” said second-year soccer coach Chris Citowicki.

“I’m just grateful and the team is so excited. Fans will be able to come out and see a Division I soccer program play on a Division I field. It will be a Power 5-level field.”

The field’s irrigation system is being upgraded this week. Next week Desert Green Turf, a company out of Moses Lake, Wash., will begin ferrying the necessary equipment to Missoula.

Not only does Desert Green Turf have Oregon’s Autzen Stadium on its resume, it’s the company that converts Seattle’s CenturyLink Field from an artificial surface for the Seahawks to an overlying natural turf for the soccer-playing Sounders.

Once the removal of turf at South Campus Stadium begins, the process will take a mere five days to level and laser-grade the underlying surface and install new turf that thrives at cuts as low as 5/8 of an inch.

Redoing South Campus Stadium is likely going to be one of the company’s simpler, more straightforward projects this summer, but the end result is going to immediately change the state of a program.

Montana always had the benefit of location, its home facility sitting so picturesquely at the base of Mount Sentinel and mouth of Pattee Canyon. At one time it had the field to match. Now it will once again.

“Where did we play our best soccer last season? Arizona State. Weber. Every time we went to a beautiful field, we played exceptionally well, and now we’ll have a beautiful field at home,” said Citowicki, whose team won the Big Sky Conference tournament in November at Weber State. 

“It’s going to be a game-changer for us. It will allow us to play the style of soccer we want to play at home. That was hard to do on the previous field.”

Citowicki was in the midst of his first preseason at Montana when Pearl Jam performed last August. He wasn’t able to make the show.

But, and this is just a wild guess, they’ll forever have a special place in his heart. He won’t be able to step foot on his new field without remembering how Pearl Jam indirectly changed his program for the better.

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