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Missouri tennis celebrates official opening of new complex

Saturday, April 12, 2014 | 7:06 p.m. CDT; updated 6:23 p.m. CDT, Friday, April 18, 2014
Seniors Rachel Stuhlmann (left) and Cierra Gaytan-Leach smile after cutting the ceremonial ribbon to mark the opening of the new Mizzou Tennis Center.

COLUMBIA — When senior Rachel Stuhlmann first visited the University of Missouri, the tennis facilities didn’t leave the best impression.

“I went outside and saw four worn-out, water-damaged green courts with hardly any lights,” she said.

As she winds up her final tennis season, that story has changed.

The tennis team held its ceremonial ribbon-cutting for the newly constructed Mizzou Tennis Complex on Providence Road south of Stadium Boulevard on Saturday morning. Stuhlmann and fellow senior Cierra Gaytan-Leach held the oversized scissors.

“The only bad thing is that this is a home I’m sad I’ll have to leave,” Stuhlmann said. “I’ve only had a couple months to enjoy it, but my appreciation for all of this is beyond words.”

The $2.9 million facility accompanies six blue outdoor courts that are now in peak condition after renovation necessitated by an oil problem.

“This is, if not the nicest facility in the SEC, one of the nicest,” coach Sasha Schmid said before the ribbon-cutting presentation, “and that means it’s the best in the nation.”

In Stuhlmann’s time at Missouri, the program moved to temporary homes such as Cosmo-Bethel Park and Dwight Davis Tennis Center in St. Louis while also making coaching and conference transitions.

“It’s been a long time coming,” athletics director Mike Alden said of the new complex. “Every chance we get to build and improve for all of our sports programs, it’s exciting. But in tennis in particular, just because it’s been a number of years and we’ve had a few setbacks on facility opportunities over the last few years, it’s great just to be able to see this come together.”

The grand opening comes on the heels of the Tigers’ first Southeastern Conference win and days before Missouri hosts the conference tournament. The tournament’s host is chosen alphabetically, and when Missouri moved to the SEC, Mississippi was up. The Missouri program had two years to prepare for its turn.

“We could have probably delayed it, but no one here wanted to do that, and it really was good that it creates that sense of urgency,” Schmid said. “This project, we had wanted this, and it was a push for it, too. Our deadline was the tournament. So in the end, all the stars aligned for that.”

The team now has locker rooms and on-site offices for the first time. Before now, players had to come to the courts already dressed, and the offices were in the Hearnes Center.

“It has changed our lives,” Schmid said. “We live together. I see these girls on a daily basis. We eat meals together. They socialize together. They can study here. They can watch film here. They can roll out the carts on their own to serve. They can stop by and see me and have a casual conversation. It has so many positive benefits. We are just even now understanding how a building can change so much about the way a program operates.”

The team has only recently seen the inside of the new complex.

“I had a really fun day. It was, I think, March 3. We had Mizzou Network come down and film them walking in here, and for them to see the building for the first time, that was such a cool moment,” Schmid said.

Schmid has said the facility will be a big help in recruiting. And it could also make an impact on the local level. With the official opening, instructors and members of the Green Tennis Center will be moving in.

“I think it’s one of the key things that's unique about Mizzou tennis is the relationship that we have with our tennis community, and this building allows us all to continually live together,” Schmid said. “So we are so excited about that, and that is only going to grow this tennis program and tennis forward in Columbia.”

The 3,800-square-foot facility was planned by Bowman Bowman Novick Inc., based in Kansas City and contracted by United HRB of Jefferson City.

The potential final step of the tennis facilities’ development is the expansion and renovation of the Green Tennis Center, which currently only houses four courts. Those plans have yet to be confirmed, Alden said.

Schmid stressed her thankfulness for the players, like Stuhlmann, who chose Missouri without the new multi-million dollar digs.

“These girls all came to Mizzou without any of these toys here,” she said. “And they took a chance on this program and wanted to be part of building something, so I am very grateful. For everybody that comes after, they’re going to know they’re getting this, and I’m going to love them just as much, but these girls came before this was here, and I’m grateful for them.”


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