SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The NSIC Softball Tournament starts Thursday in Rochester, Minnesota, and Augustana is the number one seed.
Not bad for a team that hasn’t played a true home game all season. Bowden Field — the Vikings’ home since 1992 — has been a construction site since last summer.
The Augustana softball team practiced at Bowden Field last week for the first time since renovations began last June.
“I can’t really put the excitement that the team has for this project into words,” Augustana sophomore Abby Gilk said. “We’ve seen it begin and now we’re starting to see it finish and it’s just super exciting all around and we can’t wait to be playing on this.”
“It’s indicative of the program that coach Melsted has built and the players deserve it,” Augustana Director of Athletics Josh Morton said.
Head Coach Gretta Melsted has won more than 600 games and a national championship during her 16 seasons with Augustana, but says tradition helped spur this project.
“I think it really is a testimony to the program that’s been built here for 30+ years when Sandy Jerstad was the coach and then Jenny Hill and then myself now. There’s just always been a standard of excellence all the way throughout,” Augustana softball head coach Gretta Melsted said.
The finished product will include suites, stadium seating and a plaza. Melsted calls the entire renovation breathtaking, but she has a few favorite features.
“The big Ole head in center field. That’s one of my favorite parts of this field is that and then the shiny new turf,” Melsted said.
One of the biggest changes in recent weeks was the installation of a full turf field.
“In our climate to be able to have the turf, I actually saw a picture last week and I said, ‘man it looks like a rendering it’s so crisp and bright and I love it,'” Morton said. “I mean there will be days in January where we’ll be able to be outside practicing and that’s huge for our program,” Morton added.
“Obviously last year, it was my first year here, and it was dirt and grass and now to see it be completely turf and to just touch the turf it’s just… I’m so excited I can’t even describe it,” Gilk said.
The new turf, and complex, are also a game-changers when it comes to recruiting.
“These are the type of fields that you do get to play on at pretty big schools and I think that this is going to be a really big improvement for Augustana University and especially for our program,” Gilk said.
“It’s going to help maybe get some of those kids that are picking mid-major D1’s over us, to choose us, because who doesn’t want to play in a beautiful, gorgeous new stadium,” Melsted said.
The full renovation was scheduled to be completed prior to the 2022 season, but supply chain issues have pushed opening day to the next softball season. Gilk says the team was bummed, but understanding.
“We all see the bigger picture that we get this awesome field to play on and it’s going to be here for years and years to come, and so I think we’re mostly just really excited to be seeing this opportunity that we have and we’re just thankful that we get it,” Gilk said.
The backstop poles and netting are the key missing parts. They were slated to ship last fall, but left China just a month ago, and remain at sea.
“Dealing with that, that’s a significant piece. In order to have people here, obviously, we have to have netting,” Morton said.
“My husband is a civil engineer, so he’s been prepping me for this, just in case, with the way the world is,” Melsted said. “Would we have loved to have been on this field, of course, or even a game this year, of course, but I think you really just have to step back and see the bigger picture and I think our kids do a really good job of that,” Melsted added.
Once the final pieces fall into place, all eyes will turn to opening day, spring, 2023.
“I can’t wait to see their faces light up when they walk out here,” Melsted said.
“I think that it’s going to be a lot of firsts for everyone. It’s going to be a first for obviously playing on the new field and it’s going to be a first for everyone to see us play on the new field, and I think not only is it exciting for us but I think it will also be exciting for the community to see this project happen,” Gilk said.
“We’ve had ups and downs, but at the end of the day it’s about what this is going to be and it’s shaping up to be the finest facility we could imagine,” Morton said.
Augustana played its home games at Sherman Park in Sioux Falls this season and finished an impressive 23-1.