TAMPA — If you've driven down Kennedy Boulevard near Willow Avenue in the past few months, you may have noticed a new 65-foot-tall black net that runs adjacent to the busy Tampa road's north side. Beyond that net, you'll see the recently completed state-of-the-art Naimoli Family Athletic and Intramural Complex.
Tonight, the University of Tampa will dedicate and play its first event, a men's lacrosse game against Rollins College, in the new stadium.
Ground broke on the stadium in October and took about five months to complete. It will host the university's men's and women's lacrosse teams, as well as intramural sports, some soccer and recreational activities. The women's lacrosse team will begin play next spring.
The stadium features an artificial turf that ensures the field can be used year-round, a 20- by 20-foot scoreboard that can play videos using multiple cameras in and around the stadium, and seating for 2,000 people.
"We're really excited about the new field. We think it sends a message of how committed we are to our lacrosse program, as well as the needs of our student athletes at the university," said Larry Marfise, UT's athletic director.
The stadium was funded with donors' dollars, and bears the name of Vince Naimoli, the longtime resident of Tampa, original owner of the Tampa Bay Rays and chairman emeritus of the university's Board of Trustees, who made a donation of more than $1 million. Naimoli's name is also featured at UT's softball field and tennis complex.
This is only the university's second season of men's lacrosse. It finished 11-5 overall and 7-1 in conference play in its inaugural season.
Men's lacrosse was averaging 501 people per game at its previous home, Pepin Stadium. The new venue is built without a track around the field, which will bring fans closer to the action on the field.
The university will also be recognized by the Florida Urban Forestry Council for relocating a massive oak tree from the site of the new stadium to a park west of the field. A brief video of the move will be played on the scoreboard as part of the stadium dedication.
This new complex comes on the heels of a complete renovation of the Martinez Athletics Center, which was completed in late September. The university hopes both venues will help lure prospective students, as well as assist on the recruiting trail.
"The facility is as nice as any of our competitors', if not nicer than most," Marfise said.
Tonight's Deep South Conference contest against the Rollins Tars (3-9, 2-4) is the final game of the regular season for the Spartans (8-4, 5-1). The dedication begins at 7:25 p.m., followed by a special on-field recognition of Vince Naimoli. The game starts at 8.
"It's certainly one of the best, if not the best (stadiums), in NCAA Division II lacrosse so we're really, really excited to have this," Marfise said.
Both the dedication ceremony and game are free.