By MIKEY BARNES
The 2013-2014 season for the University of Mary Washington’s men’s basketball team was one of many historic accomplishments. The men’s team, coached by Rod Wood, found themselves setting personal bests on many occasions.
Yet it was not just the team on the court reaching new heights. The fans in the bleachers were also breaking records on their way to setting a new standard, and from what we have seen so far in the current season, that standard has stayed true.
As many already know, the UMW’s men’s basketball team had one of the greatest seasons of any sports team at UMW. Winning the Capital Athletic Conference championship for the first time in 10 years, earning a berth into the NCAA tournament and advancing all the way to the Elite Eight round sparked the largest flame of school spirit seen in recent years.
Virginia Wesleyan arrived to their Sweet 16 game in a packed Anderson Center that was covered in navy blue and white. UMW students covered both far sides of each bleacher and refused to allow the opponent to leave victorious. The rowdy crowd propelled the Eagles past the Marlins of Virginia Wesleyan 74-70.
History continued as UMW hosted the Elite Eight matchup against Williams College in front of yet another sold-out crowd. Students waited outside of the Anderson Center early the morning of the game to try and obtain tickets purchased by President Rick Hurley. Sadly, the Eagles fell short to the eventual Division III National runner-ups.
Though the Eagles were defeated in that big game, the school spirit shown was something UMW athletics had never seen before. Due to their constant success last season, the men’s basketball program often found itself with quite the fan section. With the addition of Athletic Director Ken Tyler and head of promotion Philip Pierce, UMW has seen its attendance at sporting events steadily increase over the course of recent years.
Led by a group of underclassmen, the excitement behind last year’s success seems to have had a carry-over effect into the current season. The men’s season-opening game against Lynchburg College saw the student section filled from the front to back rows with fans full of excitement for this year’s team. Though the Eagles fell short in that opening game against Lynchburg, the fans stayed supportive and were in Anderson the following day, screaming their heads off for their beloved Eagles in the game against Randolph-Macon.
This support was felt by the players and coaching staff after each game, as new head coach Marcus Kahn was followed by his players after the game to the student section to thank the students for enthusiasm and support, regardless of the game’s outcome.
Freshman Jesse Jones is one of the leading members of the spirited bunch of Eagles. He is very confident in where the current level of school spirit lies.
“I’m a freshman, so I am unaware of the team last year, but I know that their winning record brought a lot of fans to their games,” Jones said.
While UMW’s fan section may not be the up to the standard of the Cameron Crazies at Duke University, the rowdy group of students surely put on a show for their team on opening weekend. With a student population of approximately 4,500 people, the UMW fan group is working to make to basketball games a much more exciting and supportive atmosphere despite being such a small university.
“It’s an honor to be part of such a spirited group of people, its really exciting,” Jones said.
Success has proven to be the catalyst for support, and last year is clear evidence for that. Though this season is not off to its best start, students are optimistic that success is in the near future for the basketball program. As long as games are being played, the fans will be there cheering.