The stands weren’t filled to the max, but there was an electric energy throughout Fan Fest in the McCarthey Athletic Center on Saturday afternoon. Fans stood in their seats, and cheered along to the player introductions of the 2016-17 women’s basketball team.
After a disappointing finish in the second round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament, the Zags hope to return to the NCAA tournament. The return of Elle Tinkle and Emma Wolfram, both of whom experienced season-ending injuries last year, should boost the squad’s all-around game. Due to the injuries, underclassmen like redshirt sophomore Jill Barta and sophomore Laura Stockton played increased minutes Saturday, gaining valuable experience along the way.
Fan Fest, like the name suggests, is all about the fan experience. Dave Kubik has been a GU basketball fan since 1997, but Saturday was his first time at Fan Fest. He wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into the event, he said, but he experienced an inside look at the team. Kubik said he hopes to travel and watch the Zags in this year’s WCC tournament in Las Vegas.
The night started off with a game of “knockout” between fans and players. Next up was a 3-point contest: Makenlee Williams beat Emma Stach 18-17. Then, Coach Lisa Fortier personally thanked the crowd before she gave up the floor to an intrasquad scrimmage.
Jack Lindsey is a GU men’s basketball team devotee, but since it is difficult to watch the men’s team in person, he decided he would give the women’s team a shot. He has followed the team for the last five seasons, and this is his first time at Fan Fest. Lindset said he was excited to see the new players, including his favorite freshmen from last season, Laura Stockton and Jill Barta.
For other supporters, attending Fan Fest has become a fall tradition. Lee and Lori Brocke have been to the event six times, and have followed the team for 10 seasons. Their favorite memory from the exhibitions was watching Courtney Vandersloot (GU 2007-2011), they said. They now follow her professional career with the Chicago Sky. The pair said they are especially excited to see Tinkle and Wolfram return to action this year.
“We think we have a remarkable group of girls coming back and we think an awful lot of their coach and staff,” Lee said.
Another regular at the event was Charlotte Mangan, who works as an usher at GU athletic events. Saturday was her fourth year working at Fan Fest but she said she has followed the team for over five seasons. She loves working GU basketball games so much that she tries to work every game that she can, if her equally enthusiastic colleagues don’t claim the assignment first. Before the scrimmage starts, she smiles and greets fans like old friends. She has formed personal relationships with season ticket holders and other fans that sit around sections 115-117.
“This is the other fun part because I usually work this spot,” Mangan said. “I think it does work out well to keep us working at one spot because [the fans] come in and they feel that they are coming to friends and neighbors.”
Mangan said she is excited to see how the newcomers and returners will mesh as a unit.
“I hope that they are able to gel as a team because it doesn’t matter if you have this talent and this talent [if there is no chemistry] … we have some new and exciting players but they have to gel.”
Saturday’s scrimmage was the first step toward developing team chemistry and although play was sloppy at times, loyal fans understood that it was part of the process. If the process goes according to plan, new and seasoned fans alike will remember this year’s Fan Fast as the beginning of a successful season full of playoff basketball.