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New Rivier outdoor athletic facility a game changer

Telegraph photo by TOM KING Here's a look at the new structure at Rivier University's Joanne Merrill Field, with the additions of bleachers, a press box, and locker rooms, etc., all part of a $4.5 million project set to be completed in two weeks.

NASHUA – Game changer.

That’s how Rivier University women’s soccer coach Brooke Hutchinson refers to the new $4.5 million Rivier Athletic Pavilion that is nearly complete for the 2019-2020 academic/athletic year.

“It’s awesome,” Hutchinson said of the dual rennovated rectangular facility and the softball field. “It’s great to have it for this season, great to be one of the first teams out there for the fall season.

“Rivier is growing, which is great for a small university like this. It’s awesome that they’re investing in us and the athletic teams.”

The Raiders softball field has bleachers behind home plate, a new, spacious press box, new dugouts, newly enclosed bullpens on both sides, and plenty of storage area. Lights were already part of the facility. Seating is estimated at about 300.

“During the summer we had some AAU tournaments here,” Perry said. “We did it before some of the construction. Now it has a little bit more of a college feel. Before it was just a tiny ballpark vs. a college stadium.”

The rectangular field-turfed facility, formerly known as Raider Field but now to be named Joanne Merrill Field after the school’s current and longtime athletic director, has a new structure on the near side containing bleachers seating about 500, topped by a huge press box, and attached building that includes home and visiting team locker rooms (four – three for Rivier teams and one visitors locker room), a trainer’s room, officials room, laundry room, rest rooms, and storage areas. The press box for Merrill Field is big enough that it can double as a conference room.

“We just feel like it shows the committement the school’s made to athletics, and the experience for our student athletes,” Merrill said. “It’s beautiful. When Rivier does things, they do it first class. They do it well, they build it well. I think it’s the nicest facility in our conference (the Great Northeast Athletic Conference).”

“It’s a great investment that the school is showing in itself,” Rivier baseball coach and sports information director Anthony Perry said. “When you look at these facilities, they’re probably the best at least in the state of New Hampshire dor Division III and maybe New England.”

What will all that translate into?

“I hope just some more and different athletes looking at us,” Merrill said. “I think we’ve got the kind of academic programs that they want, and just more looks at us, some of the better athletes.”

In other words, a destination. According to Merrill and Perry, there has already been interest from the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association to hold one of its post season championship softball tournaments at Riv next spring, and possibly lacrosse, and then even soccer in the fall of 2020.

The press boxes for both facilities are or will be equipped with wi-fi and hardwire internet connections. That will allow for the school to well-publicize its events over the web. It was doing that already with live stats and game streaming for men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball

“For the first time in the history all of our outdoor events will be broadcast on the internet,” Perry said. “Previously it was just those in the ‘Doon (Muldoon Center, which in turn was renovated several years ago).

“It’s fantastic. Now we have the facilities to really showcase our student athletes, and attract the student athletes we’ve been trying to attract but always get beat out because of our facilities. … It makes the student athlete experience that much better.”

From an administrative standpoint, Merrill loves the press boxes. “We won’t be standing out in the snow (lacrosse season starts late February) and rain to watch games,” she said with a grin.

Constructrion began for the facility last October and the finishing touches should be completed within a couple of weeks, in time for a certificate of occupancy to be given to the school for the Raider women’s soccer home game Sept. 5. A dedication ceremony is planned for the weekend of Sept. 21.

Perry and softball coach Mike Holloran – Holloran was just named interim field hockey coach — had always come up occasionally to check on the progress. But last weekend Perry was floored.

Perry likens the transformation to what happened to Holman Stadium back in 2002, when new seats, press box, and luxury suites were added.

“It went from being a little quaint stadium where you wanted to go and once the renovations came it was ‘Wow’,” Perry said. “Now here fans have a place to sit instead of having to bring lawn chairs.”

The size of the home locker rooms are an eye-opener, one is big enough for about 30-35 student athletes, suitable for lacrosse which has large rosters. A garage door will separate that from a smaller locker room. There will be lockers in the three home team rooms – in the fall they will be for men’s soccer, women’s soccer, and field hockey, and in the spring men’s lacrosse, women’s lacrosse, and softball. The visitors room won’t have lockers but benches with hooks on the wall.

“Once its all finished, the (players) will be blown away,” Perry said.

“The main thing for our athletes are the team rooms,” Merrill said. “The experience in the locker room is one of the biggest parts of being on a team, anyway.”

“I think it looks great, I’m really excited to have it for my senior year,” said Raider senior soccer forward Keara Sheehan of Chelmsford, Mass.

She added that if she were a recruit, “Oh I definitely think it would make me want to come here.”

“Throughout the summer we noticed the changes, and it’s happened really quick,” Raider junior defender Carley Bostwick of Lowell. “It looks like a whole different world. And all the parents are excited, too, because they have a place to sit. It’d be great to get out there and win some games for the fans. I get two years there.”

Merrill Field is also has an outline of a softball diamond on the near side, so games/practices can take place there in case of snow, certainly common here in March. Meanwhile, a key for the student-athletes is having their own locker rooms right at the facility, rather than carting everything, equipment, etc. up the hill.

“Game changer for sure,” Hutchinson said. “The whole energy will change for the team. Pre-game warmup, all that, it’ll be nice for those cold games to be able to go into the locker room and get warm.”

Hutchinson brought recruits through the contruction phases. The reaction?

“Wow,” she said. “And even the softball diamond. If I’m a softball player, it’s exciting to see the progress we’ve made.”

Next on Merrill’s wish list would be a field house which would allow a second venue for indoor sports practices, but she won’t be greedy. There is construction of a new science center next to the Muldoon Center, home for hoop and volleyball, so parking for those events will have to be elsewhere on campus for a time.

Fans who are going to the games at the new outdoor facility can park in the lot behind Silvia Trotter Hall, and take the concrete steps up to the Pavilion. The Rivier Athletic Pavilion is said to be at one of, if not the highest point in the city.

“It’s beautiful up there,” Merrill said. “You just go up there, the whole vista, and it’s pretty impressive.

“It’s just a beautiful facility. I’ve seen it go up, but just to be up there, looking at it, it’s an eye opener.”

Or, as the coaches might say, a game changer – for the future, that is, of Rivier athletics.