Maverick Sports Dome groundbreaking sports 2

Minnesota State football player Ryan Schlichte talks with Greater Mankato Growth interim president and CEO Bob Hoffman during a ground-breaking ceremony for the new sports dome Tuesday.

Coach Brian Bahl looked out at the grass and trees on a sunny morning, envisioning how this pleasant field will someday be transformed into a state-of-the-art game and practice facility, one that will be covered by a fabric bubble for up to six cold months each year.

It’s quite the contrast from the cramped, dim places that his Minnesota State women’s soccer team has had to work out in past offseasons.

“We really haven’t had a facility that’s conducive to proper training for our sport,” Bahl said. “It’s a game-changer, for sure. It will give us a lot of flexibility and help us grow our program.”

Minnesota State hosted a ground-breaking ceremony Tuesday on the future site of the Maverick All-Sports Dome, with several coaches and athletes looking on, thinking about how this indoor space will be valuable when weather doesn’t allow for outdoor practice.

“There’s a facility arms race everywhere, and every time you can add to that arsenal, that’s positive for your programs,” Bahl said. “It’s going to help us in a lot of different ways.

“The morale is a big thing. With a facility like this, people are more excited to work out and more productive.”

The 110,000-square-foot bubble will feature practice space for soccer, football, baseball and softball, and soccer and softball games could be played under the air-inflated roof in case of bad weather.

A couple of years ago, Minnesota State had to move a women’s soccer match to Faribault because of an early, heavy snow. Last season, the Minnesota State football team could have used an expansive indoor practice space during its December playoff run, especially after the heavy snow that came during the national quarterfinal game.

And most springs, the weather keeps Minnesota State’s softball and baseball teams from practicing outdoors before the games begin.

Jack Waletich, who is about to start his fourth season in the Minnesota State baseball program, has had his share of indoor practices at the Myers Field House.

“The big thing will be availability,” Waletich said. “A lot of sports share the fieldhouse, and if you wanted to get some extra reps, there wasn’t always an option.”

In most seasons, the baseball team’s first outdoor practice comes somewhere south, maybe during the annual Florida trip during spring break. Last season, the Mavericks had played 14 games before they had an outdoor practice in Mankato, so this expanded facility will help athletes to prepare better for competition.

“It’s really exciting,” Waletich said. “It’s fun to think about (the bubble) going right here. There’s plenty of space for it.”

Minnesota State softball coach Lori Meyer has already started to plan a spring tournament under the bubble, hoping to lure some of the better teams from the south to Mankato during an early February weekend.

She has to wait until the facility is complete in December before mapping out a softball field capable of hosting a game. She hopes that Minnesota State’s strong reputation as a host is enough to get teams here.

“But you have to do it right, or they won’t come back,” she said.

Lyndsey Nelson is an incoming freshman from Beresford, South Dakota. She visited other universities that had practice bubbles, though she committed to the Mavericks before this facility was approved.

“I think this is a great opportunity to grow the game in Mankato,” Nelson said. “It can draw a lot of athletes to MSU. Athletes want to know they have the facilities to help them improve.”

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