It has been a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows for the Kansas University women’s soccer team’s first season at Rock Chalk Park, but the new facility is set to host the Jayhawks’ biggest game in recent memory on Sunday.
The Jayhawks (15-5) will play host to Missouri (11-6-3) in a Border War showdown at 1 p.m. in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and senior Caroline Van Slambrouck is looking forward to having the home-field advantage.
“Rock Chalk Park is just such a great complex,” Van Slambrouck said. “Especially with it being a Border War, I think we’re going to get a great turnout … It’s exciting to see what is going to happen here in the NCAAs.”
Kansas played its home opener on Aug. 22 at Rock Chalk Park, coasting to a 3-1 win over Wyoming behind goals from Liana Salazar, Lois Huechan and Ashley Williams, but the Jayhawks’ time at their new home venue would be short-lived for the first half of the season.
The 90 minutes of wear and tear in the opener did enough damage to the new pitch for university officials to move Kansas back to its old home of Jayhawk Soccer Complex. At first, the shift back to KU soccer’s original stomping grounds was just for the Jayhawks’ next home game against SMU on Aug. 24, but it ended up being much longer.
Kansas officials announced on Aug. 26 that the Jayhawks would not return to Rock Chalk until Oct. 3 for KU’s Big 12 home opener against Oklahoma State.
KU was not fazed by having to return to Jayhawk Soccer Complex for the bulk of its nonconference schedule, though. Kansas was dominant in its six games at Jayhawk Soccer Complex, outscoring opponents by the score of 16-2.
Kansas is 3-2 since returning to Rock Chalk Park as scheduled on Oct. 3 against the Cowgirls. More than 1,100 fans were in attendance for the Jayhawks’ return to Rock Chalk Park, and a record-setting home crowd of 1,453 was on hand for Kansas’ 1-0 loss to Texas Tech. Attendance declined drastically for the Jayhawks’ final two home matches against West Virginia and Iowa State, with crowds of 683 and 716, but KU coach Mark Francis is looking forward to a big turnout Sunday for Rock Chalk Park’s first postseason action.
“It’s nice we get to be here, especially in the new facility,” Francis said. “It’s the first year we’ve been here, so I think it’s a great way to start off traditions here at Rock Chalk Park.”
While Francis was not surprised that the NCAA Tournament committee set up a Border War showdown in the first round, he was not sure whether the Jayhawks would get to be a host. Seven of Missouri’s 11 wins came at Audrey J. Walton Track-Soccer Stadium in Columbia, so Francis was excited not to have to play the Tigers on the road.
“We’ve played them many, many times over the years, obviously, and it’s a tough place to go play,” Francis said. “And I think for them this is probably a tough place to come. Obviously, this is a new facility, and they’ve never played here before.”