In September, Kapaun soccer coach Anthony Cantele picked up an edition of The Paladin, Kapaun’s student-ran magazine, and saw a headline that caught his eye.
“Soccer team left homeless,” it read.
Cantele said he never thought of it that way but realized it was true. Since November 2017, Kapaun has gone without a true home soccer venue. The Crusader boys played at Wichita South after an agreement was reached between the two schools. And the girls went across town to play at Newman University after another forging another agreement.
Crowd size suffered, and Kapaun seniors Emily Michaelis and Maggie Koster said it never felt like home without a real home-field advantage.
Monday night, the exile ended.
The Crusaders returned to the renovated Stryker Sports Complex at K-96 and Greenwich Road and reopened their tab with a 5-0 win over Trinity Academy. Although the complex is not complete, Cantele said it was amazing to get back and looks forward to the complex’s finished product.
“It can only get better, too,” he said.
Grass is still being laid on the outskirts of the field, a full size scoreboard is being added, and more spectator seating could be installed on the visitors’ side of the stadium, according to an Eagle report Thursday.
Stryker underwent a $22 million renovation that turned 13 grass fields and a championship grass stadium into 10 turf fields, an indoor facility and a championship turf complex. All of the Stryker fields are now available for use.
Koster, the Crusaders’ goalkeeper, said she remembers playing at Stryker before the renovation and battling a mud pile in front of the net. She called the update “something to be proud of.”
“It was all grass with a lot of mud on the sidelines, and you could barely see the lines sometimes,” Michaelis said. “Now it feels like you’re in Kansas City playing a tournament.”
Cantele said that before the renovation, it was never a guarantee Kapaun would get to play there. Rainy conditions could change the course, and many times he had to line up a substitute teacher for his classes so he could leave to check the field. But that won’t be a problem anymore.
That brings peace of mind to the coach and his players.
“Last year’s seniors didn’t get that chance,” Cantele said. “These girls know it’s a really cool opportunity to get to play their senior year in, in my opinion, a world class complex. They are looking forward to taking advantage of it.”
Cantele said he thought his boys team would be the first returner to Stryker in the fall, but that fell through and the Crusaders stayed at South. He said finding a field in the fall was particularly challenging because the football team used the practice field at Kapaun. The Crusaders football team can’t play its home games on campus, so it plays at Wichita State’s Cessna Stadium.
Forced to hold practices off-campus in the fall, Cantele had to get creative. He rented a middle school field that was more like a park than a regulation venue and made the most of what he had. April was the latest he thought he would have to wait to get back to Stryker.
If there was a silver lining, Cantele said the experience helped his players get accustomed to playing on the road in less than perfect conditions. Now the Crusaders can move back into the $22 million facility.
“We kind of made this our home,” Koster said. “Going to Newman was just different. We are just so happy to be back.”