Those familiar with state history understand the meaning of “Ad astra per aspera,” which means “To the stars through difficulties.”
If there is an athletic program at Kansas State that embodies that motto, it might be head coach Steve Bietau’s women’s tennis team. This weekend, the Wildcats returned home to host the K-State Fall Invitational — the first on-campus, outdoor tennis event in Manhattan in five years — at the gleaming new Mike Goss Tennis Stadium.
K-State, which opens the final action of the tournament today at 9 a.m., is living that state motto.
“We’ve now got a facility that says to our team members that what you do matters,” Bietau said this week. “It says to them that ‘you’re important.’
“They see all of the positive things going on around them at K-State and it gives them an avenue to contribute.”
Named in honor of former K-State tennis player Mike Goss — a key contributor to the project — the Wildcats’ new $3 million state-of-the-art home features six purple courts with, bleacher-type seating for 400 and improved lighting.
Though the new facility is nice, the real satisfaction for the Wildcats comes from knowing how long the road was to get back to Manhattan.
K-State had quality tennis courts when Bietau arrived in Manhattan in 1984, but over many years, the courts had deteriorated and eventually became unplayable by Big 12 Conference standards. The cracks on the court were becoming a major hindrance, changing the trajectory of the ball. The league stepped in and ruled K-State would no longer be able to host Big 12 matches until the courts were either repaired or replaced — a costly move that put the program in limbo going forward.
“It really became difficult to play any matches on there because you can imagine calling a school about a nonconference match and they know that we can’t play Big 12 matches there,” Bietau said. “Yet, we’re asking them to come play matches there.”
Soon after, the Wildcats attempted to remedy the situation by scheduling their “home” events at the Wamego Recreation Complex —18 miles away from the K-State campus.
The facilities in Wamego are top-notch for the area, but the environment doesn’t exactly breed a lot of fan support being hidden so far away.
For example, three years ago K-State All-American Petra Niedermayerova played a four-hour, three-set match against Baylor’s Diana Nakic, who was ranked 13th in the country.
“I honestly cannot say that I’ve ever seen a greater effort put on by a player in a match,” Bietau said, “and there were all of about three people there watching it. I think that illustrates pretty vividly what it means to be on campus and to get the opportunity to have K-State students and fans there to support us.”
The new tennis center is part of a major university-wide facilities facelift that’s taken place the past two years — including the Basketball Training Facility, the rowing training center and the West Stadium Center.
The Mike Goss Tennis Stadium project included new amenities for students at the Chester E. Peters Recreation Complex as well. In addition to the six new tennis courts, the renovated complex features two sand volleyball pits and three outdoor basketball courts. There are plans to eventually build locker rooms, add a tennis scoreboard, a public restroom, an outdoor equipment rental area and two handball/racquetball courts for students.
“That was part of the vision of President (Kirk) Schulz and athletic director John Currie, that we have a facility on campus for the benefit of our players, but also for the shared benefit of our students,” Bietau said. “We only use those courts two or three hours a day and it’s an awfully nice facility that can be used by everyone at K-State.”
Though the road may have been winding, Bietau feels the destination was worth the trip.
“Obviously, it’s a good feeling to know that there are people like Mike Goss and President Schulz and John Currie, who want to see our program do well,” he said. “I love the school and I love the opportunity that K-State has afforded me as a coach. I’m just really excited to see where our program can go in the next few years with this new facility.”