By Dana Caldwell, Naples News
ESTERO — Florida Gulf Coast University has been digging in to try and keep up with its defending Atlantic Sun regular-season champion soccer programs, both of which are picked to repeat and win the conference tourney in their first seasons of eligibility.
The recent expansion project will have added 840 much-needed chairback seats by the end of today.
Men's coach Bob Butehorn, whose team is ranked as high as 14th in preseason prognostications, and women's coach Jim Blankenship, whose team zipped through the conference at 8-0-2 last season, have built powerful Division I programs from the ground up in just four years. They and then-athletic director Carl McAloose had grand designs -- complete with architectural renderings -- for a facility four years back before the economy nose-dived.
Most of that had to be put on hold, and for the first four seasons, the Eagles played the majority of their home matchups in front of fans who used the metal bleachers that held 350 and lawnchairs. There were quick fixes. Temporary bleachers could be rolled in for the biggest games, raising the seating capacity to 1,750, as was the case when the women hosted Duke in front of 2,000 in 2009. Last year, 1,322 saw the men stun fifth-ranked Ohio State, 1-0. Over 1,000 were on hand for FGCU's 4-1 exhibition win against Mexico's Under-17 national team last August.
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