For the first time ever, Ohio State’s lacrosse teams have a home of their own.
Until this year, Ohio State’s men’s and women’s lacrosse programs have shared facilities with the football team, practicing at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and playing their games inside Ohio Stadium. That presented challenges for the lacrosse teams, as there are numerous other Ohio State sports teams who also practice at the WHAC while they played home games on a field designed for football in a mostly empty Shoe.
Now, the Buckeyes have their own place to both practice and play in the new Ohio State Lacrosse Stadium. The Buckeyes officially began practicing in the $24.9 million stadium in January, and they’re already seeing tangible benefits of having their own facility that was specifically built for them.
“We have run into a couple things with the Woody. A lot of teams share it, so it's hard to get our like wall ball and shooting and extra reps. So this will be really incredible for us to be able to come in any time,” women’s lacrosse defender Ava Keethler said this week. “We get to basically use the stadium at our leisure and just not even in our practice block, which is awesome. I really think it will just help us to get to that like elite level and culture.”
Men’s lacrosse defender Jacob Snyder said the Buckeyes have been able to put in more work on their own than ever before thanks to having their own dedicated facility, and he thinks that will show up on the field when they play their first-ever game inside the Ohio State Lacrosse Stadium on Saturday at noon against Air Force.
“I think our team in general really does a great job of working in the shadows almost and trying to get as much extra work as they can. But with the new facility, we have way more availability to do so, which is awesome. And it's really exciting to see guys coming in before, staying in late at night and after practice to get in extra work,” Snyder said Thursday. “I think when you come out in January and see us compete and play and practice in our scrimmages, you'll just see a different speed of play than you maybe have before in recent years with this team, and I think it's just reflective of the extra work that guys have been putting in.”
While the new stadium is open-air, it’s built for the Buckeyes to be able to practice and play in all weather conditions, as it features heated turf as well as an indoor shooting room. For fans, the new stadium – which has a capacity of 1,894 with 772 grandstand seats – offers a clear view of the field from all areas, providing what Ohio State describes as a “360-degree” viewing opportunity.
The Buckeyes believe the lacrosse-specific layout will give them a greater home-field advantage on game days than they’ve ever had before.
“We've never really felt that home-field advantage. Because playing in the Shoe, it's such a big facility and stadium, it doesn't feel as intimate as this,” women’s lacrosse senior attacker Nicole Ferrara said. “And it's more inviting for students to come to a facility like this than go into the Shoe. So it’s just gonna feel more special and powerful.”
Men’s lacrosse coach Nick Myers says Ohio State has already seen a strong demand from fans who want to see the Buckeyes play in their new home.
“Ticket sales have been red hot,” Myers said. “A couple games are pretty much sold out already. So I think we’re getting a great response. I think fans will experience, I mean two-thirds of our stadium is really standing room. We designed a stadium that's going to have a very interactive fan base from berm seating to rails to behind the benches, bleachers. So I think as fans get in and they kind of get a sense of where they like to sit and enjoy the game, that'll be fun to see. And certainly as the weather gets nicer, I'm sure that'll be fun for our fans as well.”
THE OF @OhioStateMLAX | @OhioStateWLAX #GoBucks— Ohio State Buckeyes (@OhioStAthletics) February 1, 2023
Ohio State’s lacrosse coaches say the new stadium has also helped them with recruiting, as it demonstrates the athletic department is invested in the success of their programs.
“It sends a message that we're serious,” Myers said. “You got stadiums that are similar to this in Ann Arbor, Happy Valley, Notre Dame. So for us to have one that we think rivals all those and maybe then some, to share that with recruits, to get them excited about coming out here to Columbus and competing for championships is something that we're awful excited about moving forward.”
Both coaches expressed gratitude to Ohio State’s administration as well as the donors who made it possible for them to have their own home.
“I think in general, it shows the commitment that Ohio State has put into our lacrosse programs,” said women’s lacrosse coach Amy Bokker. “I really appreciate our leadership and Gene (Smith) and (associate athletic director of internal operations) Mike Penner and (senior deputy athletic director) Janine Oman giving us the opportunity to have input. So I felt like Coach Myers and myself, we were able to put a lot of little touches, from our logo at centerfield to just all the little parts of the shooting room and the locker room, to make it feel like it was really custom-built. So we're greatly appreciative to our donors and to all of our leadership who went into making it feel that way.”
“It sends a message that we're serious.” – Nick Myers on Ohio State’s new lacrosse stadium
Knowing the investment Ohio State has made in them will give the Buckeyes extra motivation to make good on that investment with their performance this season.
“We want to come out and make our community, our university proud. Our athletes proud, our fans proud, the department proud,” Bokker said. “They've invested a lot into this facility for us. And I think, we want to put great lacrosse out on the field and play at a highly competitive level.”
Theres going to be a lot of Buckeye pride going on in the stadium - Amy Bokker pic.twitter.com/09YlgveGkj— Ohio State Buckeyes (@OhioStAthletics) February 2, 2023
The men’s lacrosse team is looking to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament after earning its first tournament berth in five years last season. While Myers is pleased with the progress his program made last season, he says they’re hungry for more after losing their first-round NCAA Tournament game against Cornell in 2022.
“We took some great steps last year, in terms of the success that we had, but we certainly were uncomfortable with the way the season ended that last day,” Myers said. “What I get excited about is I know that the men have made a lot of those sacrifices (to get better this offseason). So they've earned the right to be confident going into the season. We still got a long way to go.”
Snyder says the Buckeyes’ goals are the same as those the football team has every year. With five of the nation’s top 10 teams on their regular season schedule, though, the 11th-ranked Buckeyes know they won’t have an easy path and that they need to focus on one game at a time, starting with Saturday’s season opener.
“Our three goals always are to beat that team up north, win a Big Ten championship and win a national championship, and those will never change,” Snyder said. “And with this team, they're centered on that, but we also know that it's taking one game at a time and that starts with Air Force.”
The women’s lacrosse team, meanwhile, will be chasing its second straight winning season after finishing last year with a 9-7 record, its best record in the last six years. The Buckeyes haven’t made it to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament since the inaugural year of the tournament in 2015, but they’ll have extra incentive to do so this season, as the Ohio State Lacrosse Stadium will host the semifinals and final of this year’s women’s tournament.
“If we want to be able to showcase what we can do in the Big Ten tournament, why not do it at home, right?” Ferrara said. “So I think it's just kind of another level of being able to push ourselves, so we get that home-field advantage and make a run in the Big Ten.”
Ohio State hasn’t made it to the NCAA women’s lacrosse tournament since 2015, but Bokker believes her team – which will play its season opener at the new stadium against Robert Morris on Friday at 3 p.m. – is capable of taking the next step this season.
“I think we're a good mix of experience and young talent, so I'm really proud of the depth that we have in that way,” Bokker said. “We've been close in a lot of games (in past years). And I think we're looking to take that next step and get over the hump for our program.”