Fans attending today's opening games who were regular visitors to Levine-Fricke Field this season will notice some major differences to the home of the Golden Bears, however. Months of planning have transformed a stadium that was built in 1995 into a facility that meets NCAA standards for hosting the sport's postseason spectacle.
"There certainly were a number of NCAA requirements that our facility did not meet on a daily basis at this point, but as our team made it through the season as the No. 1 seed we started looking at what it would take for us to host and honor that achievement for them," said Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour.
Here is a detailed look at what goes into hosting an NCAA Softball Regional.
It begins with dedication and commitment from all parties. That includes the softball program, the administration, operations, athletic communications, sports medicine as well as numerous outside vendors. Headed by Barbour, Senior Associate Director of Athletics Foti Mellis, Director of Championships & Special Projects Jeanette Morganti, Assistant Director of Athletics for Facilities Management Mike Huff, Assistant Director of Athletics for Event Management Gordon Bayne, Facilities Manager Nick Cole, Assistant Manager of Ticket Operations Chris Celona, Assistant Director of Athletic Communications Anna Oleson-Wheeler and head coach Diane Ninemire, the group held numerous meetings back in January to gauge interest and feasibility. From there, a plan was put in place.
That plan started with a formal bid submitted to the NCAA to host a regional. The long process was worked on by the administration with assistance from every facet of the athletic department which in total took several weeks to complete. On April 20, that bid was submitted to the NCAA, who reviews all bids.
It was decided early on that several temporary improvements would needed to be made to meet the standards for hosting a regional. Cal's softball team, a powerhouse in the sport for many years, competed on the road in the NCAA Regionals and Super Regionals for the past 19 years and everyone here in Berkeley wanted to give them the home field advantage they deserve this season.
Morganti has overseen the responsibilities with hosting numerous NCAA Championships here at Cal, including National Championship contests in water polo at Spieker Aquatics Complex and first and second round women's basketball tournaments inside Haas Pavilion. The one thing that has been on the venue's side in both those high profile events was the luxury of knowing years in advance that Cal would be the host.
The entire world discovered on ESPNU on Sunday night at 7 p.m. (PT) during the network's NCAA Softball Championships selection show that Berkeley would serve as an NCAA Regional host AND so did Cal. With Sunday nearly complete, all parties involved were forced to wait until Monday at 8 a.m. to begin executing all of the plans that had been drawn up. That gave everyone involved in the set up roughly 48 hours before the first of four teams would take the field for practice.
Mellis summarized the project, saying, "We had to basically build a new softball stadium in 48 hours."
An operations meeting was held at 8 a.m. with 25 bright-eyed, enthusiastic members of the Cal Department of Intercollegiate Athletics accompanied by numerous cups of coffee. Over an hour later, everyone left that meeting and began their assigned tasks.
Just 24 hours later, Levine-Fricke Field took on a whole new look. The most noticeable difference was the six banks of temporary lights that arrived at the facility. They were in place by Wednesday and Cal took to the field for its first night practice. Tonight's games will be the first ever night games played at Levine-Fricke Field.
A temporary press box was brought in behind the stands for the large turnout of media expected for the weekend's games as well as administrators accompanying their teams to Berkeley. While ESPN, the broadcast partner for the NCAA Championships, is not televising any games here this weekend, should Cal advance to the Super Regionals, the national network would be on site here next weekend for all the games.
More than 300 credentials have been designed, printed and issued to staff, administrators and media covering the games.
More than seven hundred additional seats were added to the facility earlier this season beyond the left-field wall which increased the capacity of Levine-Fricke Field to more than 1,200.
The NCAA requires all signage related to sponsorships as well as any items that can create a perceived "home field advantage" removed. All signage on the outfield wall was removed and the line on the scoreboard that read "California" on the bottom was replaced by a sticker that says "home" for all the games. Levine-Fricke Field has also been dressed with the 15 NCAA Championships banners that arrived on site on Wednesday morning .
Witter Rugby Field, the large field turf playing surface adjacent to Levine-Fricke Field, will serve as a staging area for this weekend's event. A number of tents were assembled to provide temporary meeting space for each of the teams as well as media and hospitality areas. Teams will warm up on the field prior to their games in the middle of what has been used as the rugby, lacrosse and football practice facilities here on campus.
The opening of the Simpson Center for Student-Athlete High Performance this past October was a major part of the feasibility of Cal to be able to host an event of this magnitude. The brand new facility will provide locker rooms for each of the teams, the officials as well as meeting rooms for administrators and a full service sports medicine area.
The NCAA randomly selects different sites for drug testing and, while it is not yet known if Cal will be one of those sites, a separate area must be made available specifically for this use just in case.
Brining nearly 1,300 additional people to campus requires an abundance of parking. The University has provided shuttles for fans who park in the Underhill Structure to easily transport them up the hill to the venue.
The number of people descending on Levine-Fricke Field this weekend also demands the need for additional restroom facilities. Two temporary trailers were brought in to accommodate all in attendance this weekend.
Last but most certainly not least... game balls. The NCAA has a special softball for its championships with the organization's logo affixed on it. The sport's governing body shipped seven dozen of its game balls to Berkeley earlier this week. The woods right behind home plate, however, leave the opportunity for a number of foul balls to get lost in the trees so Cal pro-actively ordered an additional seven dozen balls for this weekend's games, leaving no room for error.
"It was full team effort," Barbour said. "Foti Mellis, the sport supervisor, really led the effort. "I am really pleased this team has an opportunity to host and for our community to have the opportunity to see them play here in Berkeley."
It is a tall task that was completed in a very short period of time by a team of professionals. Many individuals put in some very long hours this week, however it will all be worth it to see championship softball played at Levine-Fricke Field this weekend.
"It is a great honor to finally be at home," Ninemire said. "We waited many years to be able to host a regional here. It is going to be a great opportunity for our girls to be able to play at home in front of the Cal fans."
Morganti, who has overseen these events for a number of years, has one rule when putting on an NCAA Championship that she relays to each program, "If we host, we win!"