Salukis bid farewell to native field

By Gus Bode

Softball ready to say good-bye to longtime home

Weekend series against Creighton final in history of IAW Fields

FACTOID:The Salukis welcome Creighton to IAW Fields for their final home series of the season. Play begins with a doubleheader Saturday at noon and concludes with a single game on Sunday, also at noon.

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The days of having to cross the street to go the Recreation Center or braving the porta-potties lining the right field wall just to use the rest room are about to be finished for the SIU softball team and its fans.

This weekend’s series against Creighton, which starts with a noon doubleheader Saturday, will mark the final time a regular season game will ever be played at IAW Fields. Beginning next season, the Salukis will play in their long-awaited new stadium.

The most obvious fault with the Salukis’ current facility is the lack of a dressing room. Players must dress for the games at home or in their cars because there is nowhere for them to change.

Another thing missing is restrooms.

Currently, the outfield wall is lined with portable toilets, the main alternative to walking across the street to use the facilities at the Recreation Center.

SIU head coach Kerri Blaylock said she is extremely happy to finally have a new stadium because her players and the fans deserve simple services.

My 80-year-old grandma, I think she misses like three innings because she walks to the Rec to go to the bathroom, and by the time she gets back, the game’s half over, Blaylock said jokingly.

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Despite IAW being the only home the Salukis have known, they are more than ready to say goodbye.

I’m not really sad about it, sophomore third baseman Haley Viefhaus said. They’ve been telling us we’re getting [a new stadium] for so long, and now to know that it’s finally coming is really exciting. We deserve it I think. We’ve all been working hard … it’s finally our time to get one.

The first steps in the actual building of the new stadium will take place Sunday as the finale to a series of events.

Immediately after the end of Sunday’s game, which also begins at noon, the Salukis will honor the team’s four seniors Karrie Fortman, Jen Guenther, Elissa Hopkins and Tahira Saafir.

That will be followed by Blaylock being awarded the game ball from her 100th career victory by SIU Athletic Director Paul Kowalczyk.

Once that is done, it will be time for the ground breaking of the new field. The new field will be built where the practice field currently sits, closer to Brush Towers.

The new softball field comes as a result of a Title IX complaint filed against SIU in September 2000, which alleged discrimination against female student-athletes in regard to athletic facilities. The complaint compared Abe Martin Field, the home of the baseball team, which has a clubhouse, dressing rooms and a bathroom, to IAW which has none of the above.

Even though Guenther won’t be able to play on the new field, she said it will still be exciting to witness the beginning of a new era of SIU softball.

I wish they had the stadium a couple of years ago because it would’ve been nice to play on a state-of-the-art field, but groundbreaking is just turning over a new leaf and going from the same way we’ve been doing things to bigger and better things, Guenther said. It’ll be exciting once it’s built and everything, and I just wish I could be here to experience it.

Just because a new era will be starting doesn’t mean the old one won’t be memorable. Despite the poor facilities, the Salukis have been able to thrive at IAW throughout the years.

Since the University began competing in softball in 1968, the program has a mark of 734-482-3.

Of those wins, 633 came under the supervision of former coach Kay Brechtelsbauer, who was in charge until three years ago, when Blaylock took over. In her three seasons, Blaylock has already added 101 wins of her own to the Saluki legacy.

In fact, SIU has had just three losing seasons in the last 26 years.

The level of consistent success the Salukis have enjoyed at their sub-par field is probably a testament to the quality of coaches and players SIU has been able to reel in, despite obvious recruiting handicaps.

That history is something Guenther is proud to be a part of, and even though she won’t be able to be part of the new era of Saluki softball, closing out the old one is just fine with her.

I think there’s a lot of tradition on this field, and if I can’t end up playing on the new field, I think the next best thing is to close it out on the field that we’ve been playing on since I don’t know when, she said.

Reporter Jens Deju can be reached at [email protected]

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