As normal full-length schedules return to Loyola sports after last year’s abbreviated seasons, another piece of normalcy is also returning to Rambler fall home games — fans.
During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, fans were restricted from attending home games as a public health precaution. Now — with pandemic protocols set in place — crowds have returned to the stands of Rambler games.
Spectators have to comply with certain COVID-19 protocols released Aug. 17, which include proof of vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours. In addition, fans at indoor games at Gentile Arena are required to wear a mask at all times whereas masks are not required, but recommended, at outdoor games at Loyola Soccer Park.
Brenden Fleming, a senior sport management major at Loyola, said although he couldn’t attend in-person games last year, he stayed connected by watching sports at home.
“It was kind of tough because I had enjoyed being in the arenas and stadiums for my [first] two years,” Fleming, 21, said. “But I also found it a little comforting at times being able to watch it from home, because you know … everything was crazy and that was kind of like a sense of normalcy that still stuck around.”
Fleming recently attended Loyola’s Hustle to Hoyne men’s soccer game Sept. 6, which he said was “everything [he] missed,” and the atmosphere exceeded his expectations.
The energy of the fans at Rambler games wasn’t just missed by the fans themselves, but by athletes across Loyola sports as well.
During the Loyola women’s soccer game against Big Ten opponent University of Wisconsin-Madison Sept. 2, more than 600 fans packed the stands, according to Loyola Athletics. Senior goalkeeper Maddie Hausmann said she’s appreciative of everyone coming out in support of the team.
“It’s great to see all of the support for just women’s sports in general,” she said. “It’s great to have people here, we love having you guys. You can tell the atmosphere just gets so loving and supportive when everyone comes out to see us.”
Both men’s and women’s soccer teams played on their usual home turf this past spring season, hosting the warmer weather home games at Loyola Soccer Park. However, for Loyola’s volleyball team, the return of fans also means the return to their usual home of Gentile Arena after playing last season at Loyola’s Alfie Norville Practice Facility next door.
Junior middle hitter Taylor Venuto said after being away from Gentile Arena for an entire year, it has felt nice to get back into playing at the team’s normal venue. Junior outside hitter Addie Barnes said having that added support from people in the stands during the Ramblers’ first few games this season has made a difference.
“[It’s] definitely wonderful,” Barnes said. “It definitely helped us with our energy on the court … having other outsiders help us just helped everyone.”
Loyola coaches are also noticing the difference fans make in the stands, including men’s soccer head coach Neil Jones. He said it’s nice to go back to what Loyola Soccer Park felt like before the pandemic and to have supportive fans who create that more challenging environment for visiting teams like Loyola faces on the road.
“Our home fans [create] a great atmosphere, one that we love playing in front of and opposing teams don’t really like to play in front of,” he said. “That’s what playing at home is all about.”
The weight of losing a season of regular sports isn’t lost on the teams or those involved with the student section. Fleming currently works as an intern at Loyola, working with the student section and coming up with ways to attract students to games. His personal plans for the season ahead? Cherish every moment he gets in the student section.
“I think what I’m going to try to do is enjoy it as much as I can,” he said. “What [the previous year] really taught me was that we can’t really take things like this for granted.”