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New stadium to realize St. John’s soccer dream

For the better part of a decade it had been Dave Masur’s dream. As the head coach of a nationally ranked soccer team, the St. John’s coach has wanted an equally elite soccer stadium. And thanks to a $6 million donation by Jerome and Maxine Belson, Masur’s dream is soon to become a reality.

St. John’s announced Tuesday plans to construct a new, all-grass stadium that will seat about 3,000 on the Jamaica campus. Construction is slated to begin sometime during the upcoming academic year and the stadium is projected to be ready for play next fall.

“It’s been a culmination of all the players who have come through here, all the administrators who have been involved with the soccer program have been pushing forward to keep St. John’s soccer one of the top programs in the country,” Masur said. “And through the efforts of [St. John’s President] Father Harrington and the Belsons, we’ve been able to organize for a first-class soccer stadium, one of the best ones in the country.”

The field will be built adjacent to The Ballpark at St. John’s, the baseball field that was constructed last spring with city funds to temporarily house a New York Mets minor league team.

The soccer field, which will be named after Jerome Belson, a 1948 graduate of the St. John’s School of Law and a member of the university’s board of trustees, will be situated on a raised platform, with a parking lot underneath and seating will be in three sections, creating an intimate setting.

“Jerry and Maxine [Belson] have once again manifested their love for St. John’s and we are extremely grateful,” said the Rev. Donald J. Harrington, president of St. John’s University. “This stadium will greatly benefit our outstanding student-athletes, especially our soccer teams, for years to come.”

The Belsons’ $6 million donation will cover the lion’s share of the cost of building the stadium. University officials, who are still reviewing blueprints for the project, do not have a firm handle yet on the final cost of the stadium.

“We’re very excited,” added Dave Wegrzyn, vice president for development and athletics. “This new facility will go a long way towards improving our student-athletes’ ability to compete and excel.”

The St. John’s soccer team has a 159-41-23 record since Masur took over as head coach 10 years ago and in 1996 the Red Storm won the first national championship in school history. The team has been selected for the NCAA tournament for the last nine years, reaching the Sweet 16 in each of the last five seasons.

Despite the continued success of the program, the men’s soccer team is forced to play its home playoff games away from campus on the artificial turf of DaSilva Memorial Field. St. John’s has hosted NCAA tournament games at Adelphi University in Garden City, L.I. and played Big East quarterfinal games at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, L.I. the last two years.

“I really want to get the field so we can have a true home field advantage,” said St. John’s sophomore defender Chris Wingert. “If we got to the playoffs, to have a chance to get some home games on campus will be a huge advantage.”

“It’s going to be a lot better,” said St. John’s freshman Alessandro Acquista, a Whitestone resident. “It will be a lot more of a college atmosphere than playing soccer in a football stadium — plus it’s much better to play on grass.”

The St. John’s women’s soccer team will also get to call the new soccer field home. The Red Storm has reached the ECAC championship game the last two years and has a 65-55-11 record in Ian Stone’s five years as head coach. The team also won the Big East tournament in 1994.

“We’re thrilled to be part of the new St. John’s with state-of-the-art facilities that will attract the best student-athletes in the country,” Stone said. “This is something that can take our program to new heights in the Big East and beyond.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

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