Nick Welden, whiteboard in hand, watched helplessly as the Loyola men’s volleyball team fell just short of the NCAA Tournament after not being able to overcome Lewis University.
Welden is a redshirt sophomore on Loyola’s men’s golf team, but he lives with five of the volleyball players and is one of the team’s biggest supporters. This is partly what separates Welden from the average fan at a Loyola volleyball game.
“We always have inside jokes at home, and when we say [them] during the game it kind of cracks them up a little bit,” Welden said. “Whether I write that on a sign or if I just holler at them, I think it adds a little extra.”
Another way Welden separates himself from other fans is with his large whiteboard. A new tradition that started with the conference tournament game against The Ohio State University, the whiteboard has quickly become a crowd favorite. Previously, Welden would bring a poster with clever messages written on both sides. However, the whiteboard provides unparalleled creativity, and allows Welden to show off his creative genius.
Welden masterfully balances his messages between positive reinforcement for Loyola and playful jabs at the opponent. Examples of Welden’s phrases include, “Collin Mahan’s arm >>>>” and “I could serve better blindfolded!” The latter, of course, being directed at the opposition.
“The team really liked it, they thought it was funny,” Welden said about bringing the whiteboard for the first time. “You could kind of write stuff as it happened in the game. Like the red card in the Ohio State game or like if there’s a weird call or if there’s some downtime. I got on the big screen and wrote ‘Illinois > Ohio.’”
Welden also manages to intertwine pop culture references into his signage. Against the Buckeyes, he scribbled out “Ohio State does not have the horses in the back” in reference to the wildly popular song “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus.
While he’s just a fan, Welden tries to do his part to help turn the tide in favor of the Ramblers. Sometimes it’s a cleverly worded dig at Loyola’s opponent, but often times it’s shouting out a Loyola player. Against University of California, San Diego, Welden brought a sign with “U Can’t Stop Denton” written on it to match up with UC San Diego’s initials. The Ramblers went on to sweep UC San Diego in three sets.
“[First-year opposite hitter] Luke [Denton] had been playing alright up to that point, but that game he went off,” Welden said. “He was like, ‘Man, I love the sign. It kind of got me going,’ so I like to think I’m helping out a little bit. That was probably one of my favorite [signs] because after the game I got him to sign it and it’s up in our locker room now.”
These interactions between Welden and the team are common at a men’s volleyball game. It’s a two-way street with the members of the team reciprocating the attention being thrown their way.
This includes head coach Mark Hulse. The golfer and the volleyball coach have an unexpectedly unique relationship.
“I don’t have a very good poker face,” Hulse said. “If he’s doing something funny, I don’t care what time of day it is, I’m going to laugh and tip my cap to him … whatever I did after the first time [he wrote my name on a sign], he kind of took the bait and has been running with it ever since.”
Welden has a tendency to write whatever pops into his head on the whiteboard. For example, during the match against Ohio State, he wrote “Happy Birthday Hulse” on the whiteboard while serenading the coach with birthday wishes despite it not actually being the coach’s birthday.
As for Hulse, he seems to love the energy Welden brings, often asking Welden if he’ll be at the next game. Also, Hulse managed to “sneak” Welden a marker after a bad marker nearly ruined the first game with Welden’s whiteboard.
“He actually hooked me up with a marker [against Ohio State] because I had a crappy red one,” Welden said. “I wrote on the board ‘Hey Hulse, extra marker?’ and he was like, ‘Give me a minute.’ He gave me a little wink, and then a little later he gave me a marker. He’s been awesome … I remember I made a sign with “HULSE” and put a heart around it and he gave me a little heart symbol with his hands. He gives the energy right back.”
Hulse gave his side on Welden’s story about the marker, but playfully said he “accidentally” dropped a marker that Welden just happened to find.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to officially be aiding and embedding whatever he was doing in the stands,” Hulse joked. “So I ‘accidentally’ left a whiteboard marker in a very obvious place and he ‘accidentally’ found it. That is my official stance on that.”
Although men’s volleyball didn’t draw as large of a crowd as men’s basketball, Welden said volleyball matches are his favorite due to the more personal atmosphere during those games and the fact that he’s more likely to be heard.
And heard he is. All season, fans have been asking to take pictures with his signs, and the recent games with the whiteboard have only increased the attention he receives.