The power of fans


Kiersten Riedford

The crowd at Wish Field during the men’s soccer match vs UConn.

In empty arenas and silent stadiums, the bare stands and lack of fans only grows more noticeable.

The silence bleeds into every aspect of the game, making it easy to get lost in thought and difficult to focus. When the environment feels more like a practice, getting into a game mentality becomes even more challenging.

That was what DePaul athletes experienced last season when Covid-19 forced season schedules to change and fans to stay at home.

The fall sports, such as soccer and volleyball, had their seasons moved to the spring last year, where they played against only Big East teams in a shorter season. When men’s and women’s basketball started last season in November, no fans were allowed inside Wintrust Arena.

Now that the fall seasons are underway, the younger athletes are playing in front of DePaul fans for their first time, while the older athletes can enjoy the feeling of playing in front of an energetic crowd once again.

After playing her senior year without fans, DePaul women’s soccer Morgan Turner was able to return as a graduate student to play in front of fans and family for a fifth year.

“Our last few home games, the energy has definitely been a lot stronger and more positive than it has over the last year, so that was super exciting,” Turner said. “It’s also super fun to see so many students in the stands. I think we’ve definitely had a lot more students this year than I’ve ever had in previous years, so that was also really awesome for us to see.”

The soccer teams play at Wish Field, right in the heart of the Lincoln Park campus. Yet, the closest fans could get to watching games last season was from the Fullerton train station that overlooks the field.

“Going off of last year to having no fans, [where] we had people standing outside of the fences trying to look into our games, to our Loyola game where it was packed, we had so many fans, which was amazing,” women’s soccer sophomore Grace Phillpotts said. “I really do think the energy from the fans carries onto the field and it just creates such a more exciting environment to play in.”

The stands were overflowing with fans when the women’s soccer team took on Red-line rival Loyola Chicago on Sept. 9, with 466 fans in attendance.

Fans are more than just faces in the crowd. Along with being family and friends, fans also help bring energy to the building. They help build momentum when the team is down a point or give extra momentum when the team is in the lead and closing out a game.

For volleyball sophomore Hanna Karl, her first time playing in front of DePaul fans was at the DePaul Invitational on Sept. 10 and 11 after her freshman year was spent playing in empty gyms with only the sounds from the teams.

“I think [fans] help you take your mind off of the little parts of the game,” Karl said. “It was very different last year because it was extremely quiet, which no one in the volleyball world is used to, and so I think having that white noise in the background definitely helped us to be able to clear our minds a lot easier and just move on to the next point.”

Men’s soccer sophomore goalkeeper Gandhi Cruz also made his debut in front of fans in the 2-1 season opening loss against Loyola Chicago on Aug. 26.

However, one of the biggest turnouts the men’s team had this season was on Alumni day with a 3-1 win against Oakland University on Sept. 18, with 402 fans in attendance.

“I think that was a really good experience because I think that, with fans on our side, I think that helped us push forward and helped just give us a push to win the game,” Cruz said. “I think that really helped us and I hope that, for games to come, we have more fans come out.”

The largest crowd at Wish Field this year was on Saturday, when the men’s team took on conference rival University of Connecticut. There were 501 fans in the stands to cheer on the Blue Demons as they defeated the Huskies 2-1 for their first Big East win of the season.

Now that fans have returned, the Blue Demons are able to share every goal, every point and every highlight with the ones cheering them on. And, in return, the fans can help give the teams the energy and momentum needed to score those goals and points.

“I think we took the fans for granted in previous years,” Turner said. “And then last year we didn’t realize how much we missed them until we had so many out this year.”