NIU Athletes excited for return to full capacity stands

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Northern Star Stock Photo

Huskie fans pack Victor E. Court on Nov. 21, 2016 for a volleyball game between NIU and the Ohio Bobcats. NIU sporting events return to full capacity this fall.

James Krause, Sports Editor

DeKALB — The NIU football team ran through a wall of smoke and adrenaline onto the field at Huskie Stadium on Dec. 5 to something they’d never met on game day. 

Nothing. No band, no fans and none of the pomp and circumstance. Just waves of bare metal grandstands and their opponents, the University of Toledo Rockets.

“It was weird,” senior offensive lineman Brayden Patton said. “Our first two games, we were able to just have family there. There was kind of a normalcy of having fans, but after that, we had no fans, no crowd noise. The atmosphere is what drives college football. Seeing the big stadiums and our stadium without fans in it, it was weird.”

In order to get athletes on the field in 2020, NIU Athletics had to do it at the sacrifice of missing one of college sports’ key elements: the fans. For the majority of 2020-2021 sporting events, attendance was either limited to close families of athletes or absolute zero.

NIU confirmed on June 11 that all athletic facilities would operate at full capacity this fall, with mask mandates in place for indoor sporting events in accordance with campus rules.

Soon, the fans will be filling the stands at Huskie Stadium again, much to the delight of Patton and a football team that couldn’t manage a win in 2020.

“Being able to have the fans back is awesome,” Patton said. “It’s great for college football, having a return to somewhat normal. The fans drive us, and that shows with home-field advantage or when we go on the road. It’s so exciting to have them back.”

With their return to the fall, women’s volleyball will also welcome back students back to Victor E. Court. Previously, players were allocated only two family members per game. Senior setter Grace Balensiefer said that even with fans scattered across the gym, students play a huge factor.

“When students can come to the games, they add so much energy,” Balensiefer said. “It’s hard to generate your own (energy) when you’re just 15 girls and nobody else. It really helps when students or parents or really anyone can come to the games…I’m excited, especially since this will be my last season, so I’m excited that it’ll hopefully end with full capacity.”

Men’s and women’s soccer matches will be at full capacity at the NIU Soccer and Track & Field Complex. Fans will be a welcome sight for women’s soccer graduate student forward Haley Hoppe, entering her final season of competition.

“It’s really exciting because especially with families coming back,” Hoppe said. “Family is really big for all of us. Even our families weren’t able to come to several of our games last season, so we’re really excited to have our family out here. We’re really excited to have fans out here actually on campus.”

Men’s and women’s soccer play a home doubleheader Thursday. The men’s team faces Purdue-Fort Wayne University at 2 p.m. and will be immediately followed by the women’s team facing Chicago State University starting at 5 p.m.

The volleyball team hosts the Huskie Invitational this weekend at Victor E. Court, playing three games throughout Friday and Saturday. Their season opener will be 10 a.m. Friday against Western Illinois University with another match at 7 p.m. against Cal State Bakersfield.

NIU football welcomes the return of fans to Huskie Stadium at 12:30 p.m. Sept. 11 to face the University of Wyoming.