The Rice men’s and women’s track and cross country teams along with the women’s soccer team have seen recent increases in conference success. The soccer team and the women’s cross country team earned conference titles in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Junior decathlete Scott Filip, senior javelin thrower Evan Karakolis, discus thrower Claire Uke (2015) and junior high jumper Daisy Ding have earned All-American honors. Athletes such as soccer senior forward Lauren Hughes and junior long distance runner Cali Roper have both broken long-standing Rice records and received national and international attention. Hughes, for instance, has signed to play professionally for an Icelandic soccer club.
These teams have accomplished impressive feats with subpar facilities and equipment. Until this February, the Wendel D. Ley Track facility, which was used for practices, games and meetings by the soccer and track and cross country teams, left much to be desired. The structure was considered by many to be too small and dilapidated. This issue has been rectified, however, by the completion of a $2.2 million renovation project.
The renovations provide many necessary improvements to the track and soccer facilities, which will benefit both Rice’s student-athletes and fans. Most notably, an entirely new grandstand has been constructed along with an enclosed press box overlooking the track. Additionally, a 3,250-square-foot complex has been built behind the bleachers for each of the programs to use. For the first time in nearly two years, the teams have access to locker rooms, a weight and training facility, and large restrooms.
The grandstand will have seating for more than 1,100 spectators who will no longer have to watch track meets or soccer matches from a collection of portable bleachers. The grandstands had not been replaced since 1966 when the facility served as bleachers for the Rice football team.
According to Rice’s Director of Athletics Joe Karlgaard, the renovations were needed.
"This upgrade has been something our track and soccer programs have needed for some time, and we are grateful for the support the university has provided to bring the project to fruition,” Karlgaard said. “It is a terrific step forward in the quest to address the facilities needs for these programs."
Ruthie Seleznick is currently a junior midfielder for the Owls and will finally have access to an on-site facility for her senior season. According to Seleznick, the new locker rooms are a welcome addition to the soccer facilities.
“It’s really nice to finally have a locker room built for us,” Seleznick said. “We are definitely making the space our own by decorating it with our team values, posters, [and plan to] have something to hit on our way out before we go out to play. We [currently] go in every morning before training and see a wall with a cleat rack on it and have a meeting room to watch film in. It’s all very exciting.”
Seleznick said she believes that the facility will lead to a better experience for both the players on the field and the fans in attendance.
“These stands are beautiful and they can fit far more people, there is a better view for the game, plus there is this great press box above it,” Seleznick said. “Having facilities that are not only catered to those playing but to fans as well, is definitely going to bring more people out.”
Rice women’s cross country and women’s track and field coach Jim Bevan said he believes the improvements will help in recruiting top tier athletes and can turn the tide of his program.
"This new facility does volumes for us,” Bevan said. “It does volumes for us in the way it looks. It helps us in recruiting [and] it shows [we are] changing with the times and moving forward."
The facilities were designed by Jackson and Ryan Architects, the firm that renovated baseball’s Reckling Park. The soccer and track programs are the latest in a series of renovations for Rice Athletics following Reckling Park in 2007, tennis’s George R. Brown Tennis Center in 2013 and football’s Brian Patterson Sports Performance Center, which is expected to be ready summer of 2016.
The next opportunity for fans to check out the new Wendel D. Ley Track Facility is the men’s track team’s Shirley Crowe Multi Events Meet, March 15 to 16, 2016. The start time for the event is yet to be determined.