For Eric Dance, senior captain of the University of Tampa lacrosse team, Friday’s match will be bittersweet.
It is both the first and last game he will play in the university’s new lacrosse stadium on the north side of Kennedy Boulevard, which was completed just in time for the last home game of the regular season.
“I’m excited,” Dance said. “It’s going to be really nice.”
The 90,000-square-foot field was supposed to be done in time for the first lacrosse game of the season in February, but construction took longer than expected, university officials said. The stadium will be dedicated before the 8 p.m. game Friday, and admission will be free for anyone who wants to watch the first game in the new complex.
Easily distinguished by a 60-foot-high black net beside Kennedy Boulevard, the Naimoli Family Athletic and Intramural Complex will be the permanent home of the university’s lacrosse team.
“This stadium sends the message that the university is committed to this program, and it’s here to stay,” said Athletic Director Larry Marfise.
The men’s team was formed two years ago and the university has hired a coach for a women’s team, which currently is recruiting for next season, he said.
Eventually other teams and intramural squads also will use the field.
The team, with a won-loss record of 8-4 so far this season, didn’t get on the playing surface of its new home until Monday’s practice, Dance said. Until then, the team played at the university’s Pepin Stadium.
“It gets a lot of use,” he said. “There’s a lot of holes in it now. I know the soccer teams are happy we’re moving.”
Dance, who went to Freedom High School in New Tampa, transferred to UT from Salisbury University in Maryland to be part of the new lacrosse program. He said he believes the new stadium will draw a lot of fans and potential recruits.
“Having such a nice stadium is definitely going to bring a lot of kids to the school,” Dance said.
Marfise said the lacrosse program already has attracted about 100 male students to the school, although the team was not formed for that purpose.
Lacrosse, first played by Native Americans, is quickly gaining popularity in Florida, Marfise said. When the university decided it wanted to introduce a new team and build a new athletic complex, lacrosse was an easy choice.
“We really thought it would be a good fit,” Marfise said. “Something new.”