Illini women's soccer coach celebrates 200th win with new facility
Most coaches get a plaque, or maybe a signed game ball, when they hit a milestone win.
Illinois women's soccer coach Janet Rayfield got a new, state-of-the-art soccer facility for her 200th career victory.
Well, technically, the facility, Demirjian Park, is for the entire women's soccer program. But the Illini happened to be playing only their second game there ever last week when they got Rayfield win No. 200, a 3-1 victory over Northwestern in their Big Ten opener.
"The thing that keeps resonating with me is all the people who have been involved with all of these wins," said Rayfield, now in her 18th season as head coach. "And it's so nice to have a home like this for all those people who contributed to those wins to come back to."
Nice for the current players, too. And for future recruits, who may now elevate Illinois to the top of their lists. It is clear, after all, that Illinois has made a serious investment in women's soccer.
The facility, which is open for competition but is under its final stages of construction, serves both soccer and track, with shared areas for concessions and public restrooms. But each sport has its own distinct spaces. For soccer, there are two full-size natural grass fields, one for competition and one for practice. The competition field is anchored by an advanced video board and sound system.
There is also a goalkeeping training area and a tower for filming. Inside, there are locker and meeting rooms, with areas to dress, study and relax. In addition, the coaches offices and areas for sports medicine, hydrotherapy and nutrition are also on site, as is an Illinois women's soccer Hall of Fame.
"In the Big 10, pretty much everyone has something similar," Rayfield said. "But one of the things about being a little late to the process is that we have been able to see what everyone else has built and we've built one of the best.
"The day-to-day experience for our athletes to be able to call this place home will be amazing. And the atmosphere that will be created during games will be tremendous. We've got some temporary bleachers set up right now while they finish the stadium seating but even that has been so nice. We've got fans right up there (against the sidelines). They are about 10 yards from where we stand. We can really feel them and feel that energy."
The finished stadium, due to be totally complete for the start of the 2020 season, will seat 2,500.
With track and soccer combined, the facility will service about 200 athletes, or about one-third of the athletes on campus. Having that kind of wide-ranging impact was important to Richard and Kara Demirjian, a brother and sister who head up the successful central Illinois business family that donated $7 million for the project.
Both Richard and Kara graduated from Illinois. They also helped get a similar project off the ground for the golf programs at Illinois back in 2007.
"The energy surrounding Illinois athletics right now has been so great," Rayfield said. "There are so many new facilities. We've got a lot of really successful programs, and the level of expectation here is great. This is something that we can tell recruits about. We've got a great recipe for success here. This gives us the opportunity to go after people who want to be at the pinnacle of the sport."
Rayfield knows about being at the top in soccer.
She was in on the ground floor of the North Carolina women's soccer machine that has won 22 of 36 NCAA national titles and produced stars such as Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Tobin Heath.
In 1982, Rayfield led the Tar Heels to the very first NCAA women's soccer championship.
"I feel really fortunate to have been there at the beginning," Rayfield said of her time at North Carolina. "I got to be part of the journey of building something. That has shaped me and helped me understand the growth process and I have borrowed a lot from what I learned at North Carolina. We're also building something (at Illinois), and our new facility will really help with that."
Tune in: Don't forget that Game 1 of the WNBA Finals between the Washington Mystics and the Connecticut Sun is Sunday.
Tip-off in Washington is at 2 p.m. and the game will be broadcast by ESPN.
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