The University of Maine dedicated its new softball field on Friday morning in Orono, marking the completion of the first of the school’s planned upgrades for athletic facilities on the campus. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

ORONO — Since last fall, Grace McGouldrick and her teammates on the University of Maine softball team have watched as piles of dirt and construction materials gradually transformed into their new field – a $9.5 million investment that features a synthetic turf playing surface, lighting to allow for night games and late practices, and a 3,500-square-foot indoor batting pavilion.

“Knowing I was going to get the opportunity to play on this kind of field, I was just so grateful,” said McGouldrick, a fifth-year senior outfielder from Gorham. “I’ve grown up in Maine, and we don’t have the most amazing facilities in the country.”

UMaine held a ribbon cutting Friday morning for the new softball complex, the first project to be completed in an ambitious $110 million athletic facilities plan that was made possible by a $90 million gift the university received from the Harold Alfond Foundation. Later in the day, the Black Bears played their first game on the field, which also features seating for 500 fans and a heated press box.

“Overnight, all of a sudden, we had a field. It’s kind of crazy to watch it go from pictures on pieces of paper … and now here it is,” said UMaine softball coach Jordan Fitzpatrick.

The University of Maine’s Jasmine Gray reacts to an umpire’s call as Sierra Fretz of Albany holds on to third base in the first softball game at UMaine’s new softball complex in Orono on Friday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Beyond the right field fence, a new field hockey field is under construction and will be ready for play this fall, said UMaine Athletic Director Jude Killy, who is just starting his third month on the job. Updates and improvements to Alfond Arena, home of the Black Bears men’s and women’s ice hockey teams, including a new video board and sound system, will be ready for the 2023-24 season, he said.

A replacement for the bubble dome practice facility, which collapsed during a January storm, is at the top of the new facilities list. The replacement is out to bid and could be either a new bubble dome or a steel structure, and will be on the same footprint as its predecessor. Killy said the new facility should be ready for next winter.


Along with the $90 million gift from the Alfond Foundation, the athletic department set a goal of raising an additional $20 million for the projects over a 10-year period. Killy said approximately $14 million has been raised so far, including $10 million from Phillip and Susan Morse to go toward an arena that will serve as a new home for the school’s basketball teams.

Constructing the softball field first, followed immediately by a new home for the field hockey team, was a conscious effort by the university to ensure gender-equity compliance and show its commitment to women’s sports. For the Black Bears softball team, the new field is light years beyond where the program began in the late 1970s.

Members of the University of Maine softball team sing a song to celebrate the grand opening ceremony of the new softball complex in Orono on Friday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer


From its inception in 1979 through the ’90s, UMaine softball played on a field behind Lengyel Gym that was across campus from the rest of the athletic facilities.

“If we’re just talking dirt and grass, it was fine,” said Janet Anderson, who coached Maine’s softball team from 1979 until 1999. “We were able to be competitive.”

Lynn Coutts played softball at Maine in the mid-1980s and later coached the Black Bears. She recalled the university installing snow fencing to serve as the outfield fence at the field behind Lengyel. Students living in the nearby fraternity houses would regularly cross the field as a shortcut to campus locations, whether the Black Bears were on the field or not, Coutts said.


The team moved to its current location at Kessock Field in 2000, but when Coutts was the coach she made a point to not show recruits the grass and dirt surface that was often unplayable during the spring in Maine.

“We sold a standard, an expectation and the school. We sold what could be to recruits,” said Coutts, now the assistant athletic director for student athlete excellence at Denver University. “We never talked about the field. Other teams did. They didn’t like playing on it.”

The university will create a timeline for construction of the remaining facilities, Killy said. After the completion of the field hockey field, other projects include a new home for the women’s soccer team, which currently plays in the outfield at Mahaney Diamond, the school’s baseball field.

There also will be improvements to Harold Alfond Stadium, home of the football team, along with Alfond Arena, as well as the construction of the new basketball arena. The pandemic delayed construction projects across the country, and projects now are proceeding slowly because of a lack of materials and manpower. Killy, however, said he doesn’t expect it to be a major factor as the athletic projects continue.

Jude Killy, the University of Maine’s new athletic director, speaks during an opening ceremony for the new softball complex in Orono on Friday. Killy says the athletic department has raised $14 million of the $20 million goal it set to complement a $90 million gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation for upgrades to athletic facilities at UMaine. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“I wouldn’t categorize it as a concern. I think business is picking back up for everyone, post-COVID. I think the issue will be, when we do have the timing solidified, mapping that accordingly to what can be built and when. We’re not going to do all the projects at the exact same time. We’ll be evenly spaced out,” Killy said.

With rain expected, Saturday’s softball game against Albany already has been postponed. In past seasons, Friday’s game against the Great Danes might not have been even scheduled, as the Black Bears waited for Kessock Field to dry out and become playable.

“We would always have to reschedule games or play somewhere else. Just knowing we can always play here, even when there’s snow we can get it off, it’s going to be awesome that we’re going to have other teams come here way more often and experience the home games everyone else has,” McGouldrick said.

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