Kirsten McCowan and her team scrambled to bring Colorado Springs its first NCAA championship event in over a decade.
McCowan, the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference director of championships and business operations, had three weeks to put together a bid after Tampa backed out of hosting the 2021 Division II Men’s and Women’s Soccer Championships, a three-day event featuring four semifinals and two championship matches. That meant submitting a budget, proposed location with facility specifications and accommodations for visiting teams and officials.
“It was pretty intense,” McCowan said. “Fortunately, it was at a time we in the conference were not very busy, so I was able to put all my effort into it.”
The hard work paid off in May when the RMAC, in conjunction with Colorado Springs Sports Corp. and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, learned it was granted the bid to host at the new downtown stadium, the 8,000-seat future Switchbacks home, on Dec. 9-11, 2021. A formal announcement was made Wednesday at the City Administration Building.
“That was the first thing I thought of when I made the first initial decision to go after it,” RMAC Commissioner Chris Graham said Tuesday in an interview with The Gazette.
“That it would be a great opportunity to bring some Division II national championships to a top-notch facility in Colorado Springs.”
Further complicating McCowan’s job was the uncertainty surrounding the stadium.
Originally planned to open in 2020, the new plan is to break ground at the site southeast of South Sierra Madre and Cimarron streets this year with an opening planned for spring 2021.
“We were working with a situation where the stadium, I don’t even think the funding had been approved just yet when we submitted it,” McCowan said.
“So we had to be very transparent about all those things and just let them know we are really excited and we really want to host this.”
As Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers noted, the funding is secured without the use of general fund tax money.
“Without this stadium, we would not be poised to welcome an event of this caliber to our city, but now we are,” the mayor said.
Switchbacks President Nick Ragain said that while this was the first event planned for the new stadium, many others should follow.
“We’ve had other conversations,” Ragain said Tuesday. “But our primary concern is to get the project across the finish line.”
Weidner Field, the Switchbacks home, is a backup site if needed.
With 10 Colorado institutions competing in the RMAC, Graham hopes to see one of its schools playing close to home in a couple of years.
“As far as our coaches and our student-athletes, I think the light that’s shined upon our league and this region for Division II soccer now will only enhance their regular season, knowing that there’s something extra special waiting for them there at the end,” Graham said.
Sian Hudson led the UCCS women to the national semifinals in 2017, and the coach is aiming for a return whether it’s this season, the next or 2021.
“Maybe at the time I didn’t really, truly understand what that experience meant. Looking back now, I absolutely do,” the coach said of 2017 in Kansas City.
“I can assure you that we’ll be doing everything that we can at UCCS to make sure we have a local team that’s at the final four for our local community to support.”
This year’s finals will be in Pittsburgh with Tampa, Fla., hosting in 2020. Graham said his staff plans to travel to Pittsburgh to get a better idea of all that goes into hosting the tournament.
The good news is they have longer than three weeks to get ready.
“In terms of bidding for an NCAA Championship, it is as quick of a turnaround as any process would ever be,” Graham said.
The most recent NCAA championship event in town was the 2006 rifle championships hosted by the Air Force Academy.
If all goes to plan, there may be more titles decided in the Springs.
“As the planning continues in the next few months, we may consider bidding to bring this back,” Graham said.
“We think holding Division II championships here just makes sense.”