The ribbon is cut at UVI's new soccer field on the Albert A. Sheen Campus. Click on photos for larger view.
When Denny Smith started kicking around soccer balls in his native Dominica, he had no idea that the sport would lead to a collegiate athletic career. Fast forward about a decade and Smith is co-captain of UVI's men's soccer team. On Oct. 4, the junior computer science major led his team to home game victory in the school's inaugural soccer match on the new league-certified field on the Albert A. Sheen Campus on St. Croix. Smith scored the two goals that lead to UVI's 2-0 win over Polytecnica University of Puerto Rico. In the riveting game, Smith was assisted by co-captain Kimani George in the first goal and by Ismail S. Yusuf in the second. Goal keeper Jahidi Gussie made an impressive seven saves.
“It felt good playing in front of our home fans for once,” he said. He added that the game was tough, as both teams were playing on a regulation-sized field – which is larger than any they've ever played on. “It's the best field that I've ever played on,” Smith said.
“We should be proud of this,” said UVI's Interim Athletic Director Curtis Gilpin. “This is ours and is a first of many firsts,” he added. “I'm looking forward to all the matches – whether with the LAI or international games – because we have the only certified soccer field in the territory.” LAI - Liga Atletic Interuniversitaria – is the intercollegiate association of which UVI is a member. The soccer match also marked the first time a LAI game of any sport was played on the Sheen Campus.
Bucs teammates gather around Denny Smith for a selfie
just after he scored the first goal on UVI's new, league-approved
soccer field on Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014.
Funded primarily by funds from the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, the field was completed in 2013. However, divots and other minor issues kept the field from receiving initial certification and seeing any play. The delay meant that all UVI Men's Soccer games had to be played on the road – an additional challenge for a budding soccer team.
But on Oct. 4, the excitement was high and UVI pride was evident. About 100 people from the UVI community and the community at-large gathered on the field to witness the historic moment.
“We are here to unveil the best soccer field in the Virgin Islands,” UVI President Dr. David Hall said at the ribbon cutting ceremony that was held before the inaugural game. “Athletics on this campus is moving to another level,” he said. Dr. Hall also noted UVI's newly hired full-time Head Coach Dr. David Santesteban. “We are so glad that he's going to be guiding our young men and the athletic program on (St. Croix),” Dr. Hall said, noting a similar arrangement with the basketball program on St. Thomas. “This is a new era for us and for these young men.”
Buccaneer soccer team poses after the inaugural homegame on St. Croix.
Coach Santesteban said he couldn't ask for a better inaugural game. “We got support from everyone,” Santesteban said, noting the eager players and the administrators who worked hard to get the field LAI-certified. “What they did here is second to none,” Santesteban said. “They have raised the level.”
The 2014 Buccaneers feature a 15 man roster, with five from the St. Thomas Campus and 10 from the Sheen Campus. Team members are Jordan Atemazem, Maxwell Daniels, Garfield Ferdinand, co-captain Kimani George, Jahidi Gussie, Damien James, Gejae Jeffers, Peter Oculien, Gilbert Roberts, Christopher Rosario, co-captain Denny Smith, Caleb Tavernier, Josiah Telesford, Ismail H. Yusuf and Ismail S. Yusuf.
In their introduction on the field, each member of both teams was escorted by young players from the VI Soccer Association Youth players and the AYSO Youth players. The children received soccer balls from UVI. President Hall heralded them as the next generation of UVI soccer players, to cheers from their parents.
Nereida Washington, director of Campus Operations on St. Croix, said the field is for all students. “It was developed with an eye toward delivering physical education classes that will help enhance the athletic opportunities for all our students,” she said.
While the University's goal is for long-term success for the athletic and soccer programs, Smith's goals are more immediate. He plans to lead the team to more wins and into the league playoffs. And given the team’s make up, it is possible.
“This is the strongest team we've had in the past three years,” Smith said.