Diving for sharply hit grounders during a practice drill, St. Ambrose softball players Hailey Nichol and Kerrie Tenboer say their knees and equipment don’t take quite as much of a beating on a daily basis anymore.
Fighting Bees baseball coach Jim Callahan said his team’s pitchers took the mound to start the season weeks ahead of where they have been in past seasons.
Those are two examples of the benefits athletes and coaches at St. Ambrose are realizing as the school’s athletics and recreation programs begin to make use of what now is known as the Ambrose Dome.
“I think we’re all just beginning to understand just how good this facility will be for all of our programs,” Callahan said. “Things are only going to get better.”
St. Ambrose purchased the 67,000-square foot facility at 5003 Brady Street in Davenport one year ago this month from Texas-based Acquired Capital, which acquired the property in a foreclosure and shuttered it after it failed to receive the minimum bid it sought at a Scott County Sheriff’s Department auction.
The $450,000 purchase has provided about a dozen St. Ambrose intercollegiate programs and additional campus recreation programs with an indoor practice facility that is in use from virtually sunrise to well past sunset on a daily basis.
“There are people using it at 6 in the morning and at 10 at night,” men’s golf coach Jeff Griebel said. “There is a structured schedule each week with blocks of time for each program, and it’s a pretty busy place.”
With a regulation softball diamond in place – it’s 208 feet to the corner in left and 199 to the corner in right — St. Ambrose began its 2012 softball season by hosting a five-team, round-robin tournament in the facility last weekend.
The Queen Bees also hosted Knox in a doubleheader there Saturday before leaving later this week for a spring-break trip to South Carolina.
“Typically when we’ve gone south, we’re playing our first game and our opponents are 10-to-12 games into their schedule. This levels the playing field a bit,” softball coach Ron Ferrill said.
Ferrill’s team is allotted 21/2 hours a day, six days a week at the dome, and the artificial surface provides a chance to work on fielding that was a bit of the issue in the past when workouts were held on gym floors.
“I’ve had so many more reps on catching fly balls in the outfield and that type of thing than in the past,” said Nichol, a senior from Davenport West. “We’re getting in full infield and outfield work, and that’s something in the past we could never do before we went on our spring-break trip.”
Tenboer, a junior catcher from Morrison, Ill., said her knees appreciate the softer turf as well.
“The gear doesn’t take the same type of beating it takes working in a gym or something like that, too,” said Tenboer, who said the facility was one of the reasons she was attracted to St. Ambrose while being recruited out of Sauk Valley Community College.
“There aren’t many places in Illinois or Iowa that have something like this. It was part of the attraction. It’s really helping us prepare for the season.”
Callahan sees that with his baseball players as well.
When St. Ambrose pitchers took the mound for season-opening games last month in a weekend series with Morningside at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Bees pitchers were working with pitch counts around 90.
In the past, pitchers were limited to 50-60 pitches in their initial outings.
“It’s really helped us get our players’ bodies ready for the season,” Callahan said. “It’s made a real difference in arm strength, both among our pitchers and in developing the strength we need for long throws all over the diamond. It’s all happening earlier than it typically would.”
St. Ambrose has upgraded the facility since purchasing it.
An area along one wall provides the track teams with new space to work on the pole vault and jump events. Batting cages and indoor pitching mounds and circles benefit baseball and softball programs. And old office space has been converted into a putting green and hitting space for the golf teams.
“The versatility of the facility has been pretty impressive,” Griebel said. “It’s created a good situation for a lot of athletic programs.”
The St. Ambrose soccer teams use the turf and the football team practiced there three days each week last fall and will conduct its spring practices there as well.
“We expected to only use it in bad weather, but it has such a great surface, we ended up out there almost every day and then we would work on campus on Fridays,” football coach Mike Magistrelli said. “The university has done a number of things to spruce up the facility, and it’s going to be a valuable asset for many years to come.”
That value extends to recruiting.
Griebel and Magistrelli said the uniqueness of the facility in the region is appealing to a number of prospective student-athletes.
“There are not many facilities like this available in the Midwest, especially at colleges our size,” Griebel said.
St. Ambrose hosted a winter baseball academy for area youths there in recent months, and Callahan said his program likely will sign three or four of the older players who participated.
“I think it has helped open up the eyes of some Quad-Cities kids about opportunities that are available close to home,” Callahan said. “The majority of our players come from within 21/2 hours of here and to have something like this available to help them train, especially in a Midwestern climate, that’s a good situation.”