Outdoor athletes of all kinds share a common opponent: inclement weather.
Stepping on the field can be a challenge in mid-Missouri’s often unpredictable climate. The opportunity to play without braving cold or rain is growing for some athletes.
The Missouri Athletic Center at 2900 Forum Blvd. is Columbia’s first athletic club where soccer players can take their game inside.
The second session of indoor soccer at the MAC began March 2, and unseasonably warm temperatures have done little to stem growing public interest in the center.
“Our adult league interest has actually picked up this session,” said Jessica Schultz, co-director of the MAC. “A number of younger athletes are playing even as the other teams they’re on move outdoors. The public has been very receptive.”
About 580 mid-Missouri athletes, ranging from the casual to the competitive, will play in leagues at the MAC this session. Leagues are arranged in age groupings ranging from 6 to 35 and older. The MAC also offers a late-night league for college students. Costs of participation range from $350 per team for younger players to $650 per team in adult leagues.
The MAC also has indoor and outdoor swimming pools, outdoor tennis and basketball courts, a playground and an aerobics training room.
Wilson’s Total Fitness opened the MAC in January. Owner Terry Wilson bought the property from Club Woodrail last year and converted the club’s indoor tennis courts into soccer fields.
The MAC offers two fields for indoor soccer, equipped with Plexiglas walls and artificial field turf. The rubber-based synthetic turf is the same as that used on Faurot Field.
“The field feels great,” said Tony Gragnani, 19, who plays in a men’s league. “The touch and roll (of the ball) are as close as you can get to natural grass.”
In addition to league play, the MAC sponsors soccer and cheerleading clinics throughout the year.
Schultz said indoor soccer was overdue in Columbia.
“Over the years, we just realized a growing need for indoor soccer in Columbia,” Schultz said. “St. Louis and Kansas City have indoor fields, so for Columbia athletes to stay competitive at the high school and youth levels they needed to play year-round.”
Although the distinctions might look minor to the unacquainted, indoor soccer is a different game from its outdoor counterpart.
The wall surrounding the field, much like a hockey rink, is the most obvious difference. As in hockey, players pass off the boards to beat defenders.
“The hardest thing to adjust to are the corners,” goalie Tom Shields said. “It’s hard to predict how the ball will bounce down there.”
Walled fields also mean there are practically no dead balls or stoppages in play. The quickened pace often results in more goals scored.
“It’s not unusual to see a team score 12,” Shields said. “If a goalie lets in 12 outside, he better find a new job.”
Indoor fields and goals are much smaller than outdoor and each team has six players on the field. Fewer players and less open space puts a premium on ball control and conditioning.
The differences are not lost on Megan Duncan, the Missouri Tigers’ senior goalkeeper.
“I think indoor is a lot more fun (for the keeper),’’ Duncan said. “We get to do a lot more. The short field lets the keeper serve the ball up and get more in the play. The pacing allows anybody on the field to be part of the attack.”
Duncan is participating in the women’s open league this session. She said the level of competition in her league was surprising.
“After playing against some of the best teams in the country for the past four years, I thought my opinion was skewed,” Duncan said.
“But for the amount of people in Columbia, I think the competition is very high. We have a lot of fun and there are some really good players.”