By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
A few short months ago the McKinnon Family Tennis Stadium was a few big tractors digging a bigger hole. On Thursday night, the McKinnon facility will have its grand opening as Phase I is complete with six courts, lights, scoreboards, nets, landscaping – the whole enchilada.
And it’s a beauty.
“When everything is complete, the McKinnon Family Tennis Stadium will be one of the top ten college facilities in the country and probably the best tennis complex west of the Mississippi,” said Bart Scott, New Mexico’s interim head coach for Lobo men’s tennis.
Said Erica Perkins Jasper, the UNM women’s coach: “The facility will provide a really big home advantage for us. The stadium feel allows your fans to be closer to the courts and amplifies the team aspect. I love to be next to baseball and softball and there is a real Lobo feel over there.
“It’s also a beautiful facility and that gives us a recruiting advantage.”
The McKinnon Family Tennis Stadium is located southwest of The Pit and North of the Lobo Softball Field. Ian and Sonnet McKinnon gave a record $7.5 million gift to the University of New Mexico with $1.2 million going to the McKinnon Family Tennis Stadium. Cass said there are no state-appropriated dollars going into the tennis center and he said the City of Albuquerque donated the lights
The vision for the McKinnon facility stretches beyond Phase I and Phase II will include a clubhouse, coaches offices, a pro shop, locker room and restrooms. The next phase also will bring six more outdoor courts.
But the six courts that will be celebrated on Thursday night already will bring instant benefits to New Mexico. The Lobos will host the Mountain West Tournament and the USITA Mountain Regional.
“This facility just takes us to a higher level,” said Tim Cass, UNM’s Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Athletics Director. “We couldn’t even bid on the conference tournament until we got 12 outdoor courts.
“I try to compare our facilities against schools that are our recruiting opponents and I think that predominantly is schools west of Oklahoma. I think west of Oklahoma we are one of the few programs that has 12 outdoor courts and six indoor courts.”
Said Scott: “The facility we have is really nice, but facilities are like an arms’ race because they get outdated. The addition of the McKinnon Family Tennis Stadium gives us one of the best college facilities out there. It will bring with it a whole new ball game as far as recruiting.
“It’s fantastic for our team and equally important to the community. We are hoping to host some major junior events, some major adult tournaments and even bring in a professional event.”
One immediate advantage for the Lobos will come during their 2014-15 season. There were several courts at the Linda Estes Tennis Complex that were separated from spectator bleachers by other courts.
“It is not a spectator-friendly facility,” said Cass, a former UNM coach and Lobo player. “Now, the fans have an immediate sense of what’s going on because they have a great view of everything that is going on.”
The McKinnon complex also is a first-class addition to the area south of University Arena that now contains baseball, softball and tennis. The three facilities are joined by a commons area and there are more additions planned for the future. “This is just part of our master plan,” said Cass.
The McKinnon facility is a major step – but not the final step – in a renovation project that began about seven years ago with football’s Indoor Practice Facility. That project included The Pit renovation, improvements to baseball, and currently the weight room in the Tow Diehm Complex is getting a facelift. UNM also is planning to build an Olympic Sports weight and training center.
But on Thursday night, the spotlight shines on Phase I of the McKinnon Family Tennis Stadium.
Said Coach Jasper: “There are so many factors about this facility that make it exciting for us.”