Underhill Delayed, Cal Field Hockey Hits Road

After spending an entire season on the road in 2014, Shellie Onstead and the Cal field hockey program finally has an on-campus practice facility, but construction challenges have delayed the opening of a competition surface on Underhill Parking Garage.

BERKELEY -- The California women’s field hockey team has endured more than a year of trying to get a new field on which to play games, and to practice. Early Friday morning, the field hockey schedule on calbears.com changed, from showing the first two games played at home in Berkeley, to both games – against Duke (Aug. 28) and Bryant (Aug. 30) – being played at Stanford.

After newly-christened full-time athletic director Mike Williams helped push through a practice field on the La Loma parking structure during his interim term following Sandy Barbour, in May, the campus ground broke on the field designated as the team’s new home atop the Underhill Parking Garage, with the hope that the Bears would not have to spend another season on the road.

The previous lack of an on-campus practice facility following the conversion of Maxwell Family Field to a parking garage and football practice turf prompted the threat of a Title IX lawsuit. Williams helped usher the practice turf to completion, as well as the Underhill project, which had been delayed under the previous administration.

A source close to the program has told BearTerritory that head coach Shellie Onstead and her team were told this morning that the field will not be ready in time for the opening of the 2015 field hockey season, due to what’s been termed a “challenge in the construction process,” and that, potentially, the rest of the season could be played – like the 2014 campaign – away from Berkeley.

BearTerritory has received a statement from Cal Athletics:

Throughout the course of the past several months, we have been working diligently with our campus on the conversion of Underhill Field into a first-class competition and practice facility for our field hockey team.

We have been working at an expedited pace to complete this very complex construction process by the start of our 2015 field hockey season. Unfortunately, we recently discovered a construction concern that is going to disrupt the expedited timetable. Our construction team and partners involved are currently working on and testing viable solutions to correct this situation.

This will not deter our efforts to complete this project for our team. We will continue to work through this unfortunate setback with all partners involved to ensure a first-class field is produced for our deserving student-athletes.

[READ MORE: Without a Field, Hockey Hits Road]

According to a letter sent to the parents of the current team members, written by athletic director Mike Williams, which BearTerritory has obtained, the “construction challenge,” in this case, was due to several factors.

A partial text of the letter:

”The existing field at Underhill was originally built as a multi-use facility designed to accommodate a variety of sports for the students at our University, and the field’s slope and surface was not designed to support the specific requirements for field hockey. Modification for field hockey required that we apply a layer of lightweight concrete used to adjust the slope of the field without adding too much weight to the structure. Apparently due to windy conditions at the time of placement, the lightweight concrete cured unevenly, resulting in an inconsistent surface. Because of these inconsistencies, the final two layers of the field cannot be installed until the issue is corrected.

The construction team and partners involved are currently working on and testing viable solutions to correct this issue and we should have more definitive answers shortly.

We are fully aware and deeply concerned about the impact this setback is having on our field hockey student-athletes. We care about your daughters and we will work through this issue to ensure this field is built. In addition, we will be working closely with our campus administration to address the academic challenges and needs this situation may present to our student-athletes.”

A field on top of Underhill Parking Garage – an option bandied about more than 12 months ago, during a process which had stalled under the previous administration – posed several challenges already, not the least of which has been the time crunch.

After speaking to experts, it’s become apparent that construction projects like the one the campus undertook to place a field hockey turf on top of Underhill take approximately 12 months, with time built in for construction challenges and unforeseen circumstances.

The project – originally conceived more than 15 months ago – was instead given three months to complete, with the end date goal being a Friday, Aug. 28 home opener at 6 p.m. with Duke, which went 13-7 last season, reaching the second round of the NCAA Tournament after climbing as high as No. 3 in the national rankings during the 2014 season.

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