Arch Madness

The Pack(ed) Stands’ Impact: The Importance of Loyola Fans at Arch

Photo Courtesy of Cecilia VanZylLoyola commemorated its seniors and graduate students on senior night Feb. 23.

As the Loyola men’s basketball team (22-7, 13-5) prepares for the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) tournament, Loyola’s official student section — The Pack — is getting ready as well. 

Though the tournament takes place 307 miles from Gentile Arena, fans said they’re still planning on supporting their team in St. Louis. Sophomore center Jacob Hutson said the team is ready to have fans back at the tournament this year, adding that he’s even more excited to see what it’s like to play with fans there.

“I think there’ll be a lot more energy [at the tournament],” Hutson said. “Obviously, the conference tournament is a pretty exciting, pretty ramped up place, and especially in St. Louis. I think the fans will bring a different kind of energy that we didn’t have last year.” 

For the first time since the 2019 season, Loyola is offering a bus to take students to the tournament for $25, along with blocking off hotel rooms in St. Louis for students to rent for a discounted fee. The bus will leave on March 5 and return March 6, as long as Loyola reaches the semifinal round. 

One fan planning on attending the tournament is first-year Petter Wallis, who made it to every home game except two. Wallis, 18, was born into a family of Loyola fans, due to both of his grandparents being Loyola alumni. 

He started following the team more closely in 2016 and eventually ended up at Loyola, where he said he was looking forward to going to the games.

“We have a special team. I think we’re really good,” Wallis said. “We have a good chance to win it and I wanted to be able to see that. This is the last time we’re gonna be playing most of these schools, so I’m excited to see how we perform.”  

After last year’s stands were quiet at the tournament, fans are returning this year loud as ever. Throughout Loyola’s regular season, attendance was at one of the highest it’s been in recent years, before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Most games, student tickets sold out and there was a line wrapped around the Damen Student Center entrance to get in. In the team’s most recent matchup with Drake, all available tickets sold out before the game with 4,557 fans in attendance. 

Fans presence is a key component to sports at Loyola. Hutson said the fans energy gives him and his teammates energy to feed off of, especially at home games. He added it showed how important fan presence is at home games, as they only lost two this season. 

Graduate forward Aher Uguak said he remembered one game in particular —the matchup against DePaul University Dec. 4. Uguak said the game felt like they were playing at home because the fans were so loud. 

Graduate guard Lucas Williamson added he remembered how it was a struggle to get fans to come to games when he first came to Loyola. 

“To see the transition from when we first got here to now where every game, you know, rain, sleet, snow, they’re there,” Williamson said. “It just gives you a different level of confidence. It makes you want to play harder and gets you excited to come and play games and put on the jersey and play for Loyola and makes it mean a little bit more.” 

First-year Cecilia VanZyl was an avid attendee this season, making it to every home game of the season, beginning with the exhibition game against the University of Wisconsin-Stout. VanZyl is widely known for the creative signs she brings, that have even caught the attention of players such as Williamson. 

“I can’t believe The Pack and the support that they show and the love that they show,” Williamson said. “I look at all the signs, I love interacting with the crowd. That’s been one of the best things that has happened over the course of my four to five years now.” 

VanZyl said she continued going to games because she wanted to continue her support for the team, loved the atmosphere inside Gentile Arena and felt she had an expectation to live up to in continually bringing signs to heckle the away teams and cheer on Loyola. 

“My whole life, I’ve been taught not to be a fair-weather fan,” VanZyl said. “I feel like with games like [Missouri State], we are here to cheer on this team and hope they win. We’re not gonna transfer because we lost again. This is our school, this is our team.” 

Though VanZyl isn’t able to attend Arch Madness this year, she said she has already told her family not to bug her during the tournament , because she’ll be locked in. VanZyl said her friends are making the trip with Loyola and knows many others who are going as well. 

The No. 4 seed Ramblers will travel to St. Louis on March 4 to play against No. 5 Bradley University in the quarterfinals. Tipoff is set for 2:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago.

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