As the final steel beam bearing the signatures of UConn’s baseball, softball and men’s and women’s soccer and lacrosse teams locked into place, the crowd below burst into cheers at the site of its latest and biggest project. With the help of players, coaches and donors alike, the Rizza Family Performance Center is now one step closer to completion and has everyone excited for all that is to come with it.
The sports complex has been a long time coming for UConn, with initial talks beginning in 2000. But after an $8 million dollar donation from former UConn men’s soccer captain Tony Rizza — along with support from other UConn alums — the dream has become a reality nearly 20 years later. The construction plans include a new-and-improved Joseph J. Morrone Stadium as well as an adjacent practice field for both soccer teams to use.
Head coach of the women’s soccer team, Margaret Rodriguez, was in awe of the university and its community for finishing the long-awaited goal.
“To actually see what we’re looking at right now, I could not be more proud of our university, more proud of our athletic department and of the people supporting us,” Rodriguez said. “It’s an exciting time.”
UConn’s soccer program has been playing its home games at Dillon Stadium in Hartford since the original Morrone Stadium was torn down back in the fall of 2018. This has left a hole in the athletics program that Ray Reid, head coach of the men’s soccer team since Morrone’s retirement in 1996, said he is eager to have restored.
“We’re very excited to get back to Morrone Stadium as soon as possible,” Reid said. “We can’t wait to be back on campus, play in front of the goal patrol and the best fans in college soccer. This project will redefine the University athletic programs as we go forward.”
UConn President Thomas Katsouleas says this project is much more about the university than its sports, saying it has brought out the best in the UConn community, both new and old.
“I’ve been impressed by the strength of the bond the entire UConn community feels with the athletes who represent our university,” Katsouleas said. “As the members of the goal patrol like to say, ‘When the Huskies take the field it’s our family versus their team.’ Today our family is on the threshold of something very special, and we are tremendously grateful to everyone who made this possible.”
David Benedict, director of UConn Athletics, said that the project remains on schedule and should be ready for Fall 2020, while Elliot Ballpark, the new baseball field, should be ready for the upcoming season.
Lead donor and UConn alum Tony Rizza was the last to sign the beam before it was settled into the complex’s framework. Rizza left some final words for the athletes lucky enough to use the complex next season and for years to come.
“To the players: You guys are gonna have a really wonderful place to play,” Rizza said. “I’m jealous, but I’m looking forward to coming out next year and watching all the games and seeing us win a lot of them.”
Conner Gilson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @connergilson03.