NORTH ANDOVER — It’s really something with a vision becomes a reality.
Yesterday, members of the Merrimack football team practiced on the turf at the new Warrior Stadium for the first time. The culmination of a huge summer project for the college will happen tomorrow night, when the stadium is officially christened, and then the Warriors will play the first home game at their new digs on Saturday afternoon, when they host Pace for a 1 p.m. kickoff as part of the college’s Homecoming Weekend.
The new stadium will be used for football, lacrosse and field hockey. Meanwhile, the Merrimack track program will have a home venue for the first time in its history as part of the complex.
“It’s been crazy watching the progress,” said Merrimack fifth-year senior defensive back Brian Carroll. “We walk by it almost every day going to practice. You watch it go up little by little and it’s really amazing to see what it looks like now. We can’t wait to get out there on Saturday and it’s definitely a huge for the entire Merrimack program, especially football.”
The Warriors practiced yesterday under the watchful eye of Merrimack President Dr. Christopher Hopey. Under Hopey’s leadership, the college infrastructure has exploded, with new dormitories, a second ice rink, a new business school and now a stadium complex all being erected in recent years.
“It’s a credit to President Hopey, (Merrimack AD) Jeremy Gibson and everyone here,” said football head coach Dan Curran. “If it wasn’t for their support, projects like this do not happen. This came together quickly. It was something that was on the wishlist for a long time, but once the plan was in place to get it done, it got done.”
The college broke ground on the project only this past June. The scope includes the new stadium, which sits directly across from the Volpe Athletic Complex, as well as a new softball field (turf) and a repurposed stadium for men’s and women’s soccer, where the old stadium sat.
For football, Curran said the stadium is already paying off in recruiting and it will continue to do so in future years.
“We know that we’re offering kids much more than a nice stadium,” he said, “but, let’s face it, we’re dealing with teenage kids. It certainly doesn’t hurt when you pull up and you see a new facility like this, combined with our new training rooms, our new weight room, it’s really the finishing touch on the total package. That stuff attracts players, and then when we get their ear, that’s when we can sell everything else about the college because there is a lot here that players should want to be a part of.”
In recruiting this fall, Curran said there was already a buzz, especially among local recruits, that Merrimack was investing in their facilities.
“When I was in high school, seeing a stadium like this would definitely be attractive,” Carroll said. “I think it just lets you know that Merrimack is serious about athletics.”
The test run on Wednesday went well, and will be a small adjustment from the old turf the Warriors played on.
“The previous turf was a little thicker, and I think this is a little shorter,” Curran said. “What that means is that the surface might be a little faster. There might be a slickness to it. At least this way, if we practice on it, we can break it in a little bit and make sure we have our footing.”
Merrimack will officially open Warrior Stadium with a ceremony tomorrow night (7 p.m.) which is open to the public. There will be live music, food, drinks and on-field games followed by fireworks at 9 p.m.
Hall of Fame Ceremony Tonight
Merrimack will induct its first Hall of Fame class since 2004 tonight, kicking off the Homecoming festivities.
Ten different sports are represented among that group, with the sports of men’s and women’s soccer, women’s cross country, football, men’s lacrosse and women’s volleyball all seeing representation for the first time in school history.
Former Merrimack goaltender Jim Hrivnak was named to the Hall of Fame on this year’s class, but he will be officially inducted into the Hall of Fame with next year’s class, after a scheduling conflict prevented him from attending the ceremony tonight.
The inductee list includes:
Molly Cindric ’11 (women’s volleyball)
Darren Duncan ’10 (men’s basketball)
Jim Hrivnak ’89 (men’s ice hockey)
Andrew Jackson ’08 (football)
Andrea Leonard ’00 (women’s cross country)
Joelle Martin ’06 (women’s basketball)
Steve McAuliffe ’98 (men’s soccer)
Raffaella Paparo ’96 (softball)
Sue Plante ’90 (women’s soccer)
Greg Rogowski ’09 (men’s lacrosse)