Gaining ground: UHH has turf fields for soccer, softball in sight

  • UHH file photo Instead of playing on dirt, UH-Hilo’s soccer programs are scheduled to leave the school’s baseball practice field to hold matches at an on-campus synthetic turf field.

UH-Hilo tried to break ground at this spot a decade ago, but looking back it’s a surprise the university didn’t find a running river when it did.

Drainage, among other issues, was a hazard the last time the Vulcans attempted to play at an on-campus soccer field. UHH women’s coach Gene Okamura remembers the ill-fated endeavor during his senior season with the men’s team in 2010.

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“It was under par,” Okamura said. “It was definitely not a field any college athlete should be playing on.”

UHH thinks it’s struck gold, not water, this time.

During a short ceremony Thursday marking the beginning of construction on a $4.2 million project that includes an NCAA regulation soccer synthetic turf field, school chancellor Bonnie Irwin hailed the undertaking as the university’s first investment in an athletic facility in nearly 40 years.

“We were just talking about how important it is in these times to have something to celebrate,” Irwin said.

Also on tap are synthetic turf for the outfield of the softball field as well as a multipurpose building that will house restrooms, concessions, storage and a team room. That facility will sit between the softball field and the soccer field, which is located on the area of field fronting West Kawili Street next to the athletic parking lot.

Funded during the 2018 state legislative session, the target completion date for the project is September, which ostensibly would be in time for the UHH’s men’s and women’s soccer teams to try and play their entire seasons there.

“These will be first-class facilities for what I consider first-class students,” UHH athletic director Pat Guillen said.

“These fields will service the community as well. We are planning a lot of youth soccer programs, camps, clinics for this field. It’s a way to continue to nurture civic engagement and our community service opportunities.”

Men’s soccer coach Paul Regrutto called the prospect of having an on-campus turf field a “game-changer.”

In Regrutto’s first turn as men’s coach in 2007, the Vulcans practiced at Waiakea Intermediate’s field and played the bulk of their games at Keaau High. When he resumed his coaching duties at UHH in 2018, the Vuls were playing at Kamehameha’s Paiea Stadium, and last season they went back to holding matches on the campus baseball practice field.

“The big thing, it creates a more professional atmosphere,” Regrutto said. “You’re able to recruit players. If your kids can’t train anywhere on campus – and that’s the case right now – they can’t feel like they’re part of a professional environment. They are always going to be wanting something.

“When you have what Gene and I, I think, are doing with our programs, and the level we’re getting to, you have to have a place where they can go and do those types of things. This is going to be that place where they can excel.”

During the rainy spring season, a water-logged outfield has become a constant concern for the Vulcans’ softball team, which annually has to head toward drier fields in Kailua-Kona to avoid postponements

The school said Nan, Inc. is the general contractor, beginning work Monday on a project that first hit the drawing board nearly four years ago.

A Waiakea High alum, Okamura has been a prominent member of the soccer community for much longer than that.

“I’m pretty positive this is going to be the only soccer-specific turf field in the state,” he said.

During his playing days, the Vuls also held matches at Amauulu Field, and many of his practices as a coach have been at Hilo Bayfront. Okamura’s relieved that players conceivably won’t have to leave the campus area anymore to fulfill their academic and athletic obligations.

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“It helps with recruiting, increasing the quality of the experience for our players,” he said. “Obviously, having a facility on campus, players can come from here to there, and go right to class. Instead of having to go down to Bayfront, drive home to shower and go to class.

“It makes our life a lot easier, too, planning and logistically.”

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