One of the loudest and longest-held complaints in Albuquerque among high school soccer coaches has dealt directly with the playing surfaces at the APS Complex.
The four surfaces at the Complex for years have been consistently described by coaches and players as unplayably hard, a result of the constant use they receive both during the prep season and even in the offseason when other entities rent them for use. Thus, a large majority of soccer traditionalists have deemed them unsuitable for a practical — or tactical — brand of soccer, even forcing teams to drastically alter how they play a game.
However, new — softer — fields are coming for the 2023 season.
Albuquerque Public Schools is currently replacing two of the four fields, and should have them installed by the end of this month. The other two are scheduled to be replaced by July. And, they are expected to be slightly longer and wider than the previous surfaces. The APS Complex is located just west of Volcano Vista High School.
“(We) are extremely excited about the new fields,” said longtime La Cueva High girls soccer coach Amber Ashcraft. “Having to play 90% of our games on those fields has been hard the past 10 years, but (we’re) looking forward to playing on the new turf.”
La Cueva, Sandia, West Mesa, Atrisco Heritage and Valley all call the APS Complex home. Albuquerque High, Cibola, Rio Grande, Manzano, Highland, Eldorado, Volcano Vista and Del Norte have their own fields on campus. Most of those are turf, but several schools — AHS, Volcano Vista and Manzano — play on grass. Eldorado and Cibola both gained new turf fields within the last several years.
Many coaches have said that the APS Complex fields long outlived their usefulness, on top of being not terribly safe for players.
“The fields have been quite poor for the past 4-5 years,” Sandia boys coach Ryan Sanchez said. “It’s become a hazard to play on them.”
The Complex fields have been a source of controversy since the facility first opened in 2009. The size of the surfaces were so small, and the backlash from coaches so loud, that APS immediately expanded them to 110 yards by 68 yards. But because they quickly became so hard due to overuse, they have been playing much smaller than that for many years.
APS district athletic director Adrian Ortega said the new fields will be about a foot wider and a foot longer.
“We’re pushing it as far as we can,” Ortega said, adding that these new turfs will feature slightly longer blades than the ones seen at football stadiums like Wilson or Milne, for example, thus slowing the game down.
Ortega said he will push the site as a possible location for the state tournament. The APS Complex is a former host site for state. It then moved to the complex on the Santa Ana Pueblo for a few years. The University of New Mexico hosted championship games in both the spring and fall of 2021; Cleveland High, with its new turf, hosted the six finals last November.
APS is spending, through capital outlay funds, $908,301 on Phase I of this project, which includes digging up the first two fields — which are just about rock hard in many areas — and laying down new turfs, according to APS Chief Operating Officer Dr. Gabriella Blakey.
The cost of Phase I of the this project also includes what APS says is “miscellaneous site work.”
It was not known what Phase II will cost, as that project has not yet contracted, Blakey said.
APS last year replaced the surfaces at two of its three city football venues: Wilson Stadium and Milne Stadium, at a reported cost of $365,000 per field.
As for Nusenda Community Stadium, that venue just completed its 10th football season. It staged its first football game in August 2013. Although, the actual number of seasons is closer to 9 or 9½, since there was no fall season in 2020 (pandemic) and dramatically fewer games played in the spring of 2021.
Typically, turfs have a shelf life of 10 years, and the one at Nusenda is beginning to show signs of a sheen.
Highland High is also getting a new soccer field. It, like the ones at the APS Complex, is incredibly hard under the foot.
Blakey said the cost to replace Highland’s field — the only one of the campus-site venues with lights — is $663,236. Work is slated to begin early next month and be completed by late April.