On occasion, a Monday Mailbag question requires too much time for me to include in the weekly feature, so I write it up separately as a “Mailbag leftover.” I got such a question this week from reader Logan at LakesideVibes (who doesn’t love a good lake house?) Who asked me to grade each of Nevada’s athletics facilities. In an attempt to answer that question, I will list the Wolf Pack’s sports from worst to best in terms of their facilities (and add grades in parentheses for the main athletic facilities on campus). Let’s get to it.
11. Soccer: Nevada women’s soccer started in 2000, and the program has posted only two winnings season in its history (2005 and 2006) despite having six full-time head coaches. Clearly, something is wrong, and it starts with the facilities, or lack thereof. The Wolf Pack plays at Mackay Stadium (D- in terms of a soccer facility), which leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to a soccer pitch. The biggest issue is the FieldTurf playing surface, which soccer plays rightfully loathe. They prefer grass given the wear and tear on the body and smoother landing service for slide tackles. Adding stroke to stroke is the fact TMCC, a junior college, has a great grass-surface soccer pitch less than four miles away.
10. Track and field: You could argue for the track and field at the No. 11 spot considering the program can’t host events, and soccer can. The university completed a track resurface at Mackay Stadium at a cost of $ 400,000 in August 2016, although that’s already deteriorated to the point it needs another resurfacing. Track and field also has a practice area on the old Bishop Manogue property across the street from the campus that includes three shot put rings, a javelin runway, a hammer and discus ring, a dual high jump pad, dual long jump pits and dual pole vault lace. But it’s now near the actual track on campus, which is inside the football stadium and goes under two sets of bleachers. The whole situation is problematic.
9. Softball: Built in 2007, Christina M. Hixson Softball Park (C-) had the potential to be great, but it was constructed during The Great Recession and was never finished. The stadium doesn’t have lights, doesn’t have permanent locker rooms and doesn’t have working toilets. That’s embarrassing, an issue that was drug into the spotlight when the softball team had $ 15,000- $ 20,000 worth of gear stolen from its locker room – a shipping container with lights and windows and without a locking key – this season. It’s also across the street from the main campus. Unlike soccer, softball at least has its own standalone facility, but much progress must be made to get it to the Mountain West standard. The bones are in place, though.
8. Swimming and diving: I’m sure Lombardi Pool (D +) was nice when it opened in 1974, but that’s almost 50 years ago. I’m surprised the school didn’t put in a new pool in the $ 47.5 million EL Wiegand Fitness Center that opened in 2017. That could have brought Nevada’s swimming and diving facilities into the 21st century. Instead, Lombardi has 25-meter-long lanes (Olympic lanes are 50 meters) and a diving pit for 1-meter and 3-meter dives rather than the platform dive, with Nevada having to go to other facilities (usually Stanford) to practice that. The Wolf Pack also has limited practice hours as it shares the facility with students and faculty. Nonetheless, Nevada has had one of the MW’s top swimming and diving programs in the last decade.
7. Volleyball: The Virginia Street Gym (C) is a really cool facility that opened in 1945 and hosted basketball luminaries such as Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor when it used to host NBA exhibition games. The downside is all that history is the fact the facility is so old. In fact, it’s the oldest facility of any home arena for a Nevada team by more than 20 years (the second oldest is Mackay Stadium, built 21 years after the Virginia Street Gym). The biggest issues are the locker rooms and the fact the building doesn’t have air conditioning. Having a standalone home court is awesome – VSG became the sole playing venue for the volleyball program in 1994 – but it’s in need of a major renovation.
6. Football: The modern-day Mackay Stadium (C) was completed in 1965 with an initial seating capacity of 7,500. It has been expanded several times since then, including a roughly $ 15 million renovation in 2016 that added a club level to the stadium. Mackay itself is a below-average MW facility, especially with UNLV, Colorado State, San Diego State and Hawaii all building new stadiums. When all are completed, Mackay would rank ninth out of 12 (at best) among MW football stadiums. The Wolf Pack is pouring $ 5 million into football projects this offseason, including a major expansion of the locker room, a big upgrade. But the biggest issue is the lack of an indoor practice facility, which puts Nevada behind the eighth ball in the facility fight.
5. Baseball: Peccole park (C +) opened in 1988 and was a godsend for a program that played off campus. It’s undergone a number of renovations since then, including a new playing surface in 2018 after Don and Toni Weir made a $ 1 million donation. Most of the non-surface upgrades – restrooms, concessions, parking, indoor batting and pitching facility – were added in the 1990s with additional seating down the left-field line installed in 2001. It’s been a while since Peccole got a major facelift, although a new scoreboard was recently put in. Making it possible to walk from the first-base bleachers to the third-base bleachers would be nice. But the biggest upgrade these are improved locker rooms, coaches offices and indoor practice facilities.
4. Men’s women’s tennis: The newest Wolf Pack home-court facility is the McArthur Tennis Center (B), which opened for play in 2017 on the old Bishop Manogue property, bringing the teams to campus for the first time since the 1990s (they played at the Caughlin Athletic Club before that). The six-court $ 2.3 million tennis center was a major boon for Nevada tennis, although unlike many MW schools there aren’t real stands around the courts, which would have been a nice addition when they were constructed. Given Northern Nevada’s weather, a place to practice indoors during the winter would be huge, but that’s a major expense that’s unlikely to happen (unless Nevada shoehorns something in the proposed all-sport fieldhouse).
3. Men’s / women’s cross country: Cross country doesn’t really have a “home track,” but the Wolf Pack does have Rancho San Rafael Park across from campus, which is useful. There are tons of trails at high elevation in the Reno / Tahoe area where the teams can practice. Plenty of them offer challenging hills for difficult altitude training. Some cross country meets are run on golf courses – when Nevada hosted the MW cross country championships in 2015, it did so at Montreux, the private course in south Reno – and Northern Nevada has plenty of those. Getting high-level treadmills like those in the EL Wiegand Fitness Center and putting them in the training center in Lombardi would be nice.
2. Men’s / women’s golf: Nevada doesn’t really have a “home course” unless you count Wolf Run Golf Club. That land, once a 185-acre working ranch, was gifted to the university by the John Shaw Field Foundation and the school turned it into a golf course in 1998 for Nevada men’s and women’s golf. The Wolf Pack has partnerships with most of the courses in Reno, and there are a lot of great ones. Nevada also has added a hitting facility on campus and a 4,000-square-foot indoor facility at Somersett Country Club in west Reno. Winters came tough for year-round golfers in Northern Nevada, but the Wolf Pack has some nice options in town for most of the calendar year.
1. Men’s / women’s basketball: This top spot isn’t debatable. Nevada basketball doesn’t have perfect facilities – the men’s and women’s coaches share coaching offices inside Lawlor, for example, and they also share a strength and conditioning center with all non-football sports – but that’s comparatively small quibbles. Lawlor Events Center (B) remains an excellent venue despite being built almost 40 years ago (in 1983), and the addition of a basketball-only practice facility, the Ramon Sessions Performance Center (B), in 2018 has been huge. Men’s coaches Steve Alford and Craig Neal spearheaded $ 8 million in donations for the construction of a two-story men’s and women’s locker rooms / players lounge that will break ground soon. Add everything up and Nevada basketball has top-four facilities in the MW, and not many Wolf Pack programs can justifiable say that.
Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.