For UC Irvine, the end of the 2015 season caps off another successful year for the school’s athletics programs, perhaps none more notable than the inaugural appearance of the men’s basketball team in the NCAA Tournament.
Before clinching their ticket to the Big Dance, however, the 2014-2015 UCI basketball team proved to be a formidable opponent at home and throughout, posting an overall 10-3 record during the season when playing in the recently-renovated Bren Events Center.
With an average of 2,348 energetic Anteaters at each home game and 2,354 last year, attendance at the Bren Events Center has seen a notable increase since the 2012-2013 season, where the average gate was 1,639.
For graduating seniors Fritzi Washington and Luis Cabrera, co-presidents of Antourage (UCI’s student spirit group), the amount of impassioned fan support was something they never even dreamed of seeing.
“We all just started with a big passion, we saw something that needed to be fixed, and it took years just to get to where we are now, like our name Antourage,” said Washington. “People are knowing who we are, and how everyone is a part of it, just like we’re all Anteaters. It’s been quite a journey.”
As freshman, the two first became involved with Antourage –– then known as CIA, Completely Insane Anteaters –– in response to an email looking for individuals to revamp the program.
While UC Irvine is more widely known nationally for its academics than its athletics, the two took on the task of helping promote a greater sense of campus unity.
“School spirit is shown through different lenses, different successes on campus, it’s not all about sports,” said Washington. “I think just bringing up our level of school spirit from sports makes us a bit more well-rounded.”
Though passionate, Cabrera and Washington’s initial experiences in the club were not without difficulty, as Antourage’s first attempts to rally the crowd at the Bren were often met with hostility.
“That took years, getting people to stand,” noted Washington.
Rousing the crowd to their feet proved to be an intimidating task, as they were often met with indifference or defiance from those who took offense to being told what to do.
Despite the disheartening start, Antourage members persisted with their attempts. Taking baby steps to promote crowd involvement, Antourage encouraged the crowd to stand up for the last minute, gradually moving the time up throughout the course of the season.
“It was just getting the word out there, talking to them, because in the end they’re there for the same reason as us,” said Washington. “Even though they might not want to express their spirit in the same way as we do, they’re still fans, and we still need them.”
Of course, the support of the Anteater Band and the Cheer and Spirit team was a major contributor to the liveliness of the Bren Events Center.
“We all work together to embrace the momentum of the energy that day. We feed off of each other’s cheers to bring unity into in game experiences,” said Washington.
Now, the Bren Events Center has an entire section that’s listed as standing room only, reserved for only the most zealous of Anteater Nation.
Following the success of the 2012-2013 team, where the Anteaters went undefeated at home and secured the first seed in the Big West Tournament, fan attendance began to noticeably increase at the Bren.
To help sustain the wave of increased fan attendance, Antourage began to provide incentives to the student body to come to the Bren, working together with UCI Sports Marketing and the ASUCI Athletics Commission behind the scenes to best promote and engage students to attend games.
Currently, students who attend three games are rewarded with a golden Antourage T-shirt and devoted fans who attend every home game receive their own basketball jersey.
The efforts of Antourage have not gone unnoticed by Coach Russell Turner and his squad, whom show their appreciation by coming together for an annual picture with the club every year.
“It’s been kinda cool to know we contributed to the success of the team,” said Cabrera. “It’s just amazing, it’s been fun, it’s been great, and it’s something that we’re both passionate about”
For Washington and Cabrera, Antourage is more than just a club devoted to cheering on the basketball team, it’s a space for undergraduates to unite under one vision and one passion: school spirit.
With the men’s basketball team having earned recognition on a national scale with their near upset of fourth seed Louisville in the NCAA Tournament, Washington and Cabrera can rest assured that the Bren will continue to be packed day in and day out.
“It’s great when it’s everybody as one, because when everybody’s up, not just us, but when it’s everybody, including the crowd and us, it’s like we’re unstoppable,” said Cabrera.