VALPARAISO | The Valparaiso men's basketball team's loudest supporters were on spring break when the Crusaders won a Horizon League semifinal game in the final seconds on Saturday.
Yet, it took less than 24 hours for the student section to sell out.
The ValparaiZone, which is having a banner year to mirror the men's team, filled up quickly for Tuesday's Horizon League championship game against Wright State and spilled into other sections.
"The team has played really well, so it's easy to promote them," said marketing and sports management senior Rachel Hoaglin, who also played on the women's soccer team. "It's been packed here every game, so that makes it so much fun. This is the best turnout we've had in any of the four years I've been here."
In addition to filling the section most of the season, the ValparaiZone finished 10th in voting for the Naismith Student Section of the year award. The section was the only Horizon League team in the top 10 for the award that was voted on by fans.
The marketing department submitted information to the Collegiate Licensing Company that ran the competition, including video, pictures and how the section is run. The school of 3,300 students brings about 500 to 900 students per team to the games, or about 28 percent of the student population.
"We're a smaller school, so it's a smaller student section, but when you consider the size of our population, that's a big number," said Jennifer Garret, the assistant director of marketing for athletics who helped organize events for the ValparaiZone this season. "We started by looking at what we can do to get the word out about games and how do we get more students here."
Section organizers handed out everything from t-shirts to sunglasses to increase the size of the section this year.
Due to Horizon League rules about the championship game played on a "neutral" court, the ValparaiZone was relegated to the opposite end of the gym, nearest to the Cruaders' bench. Typically on the west end of the Athletics-Recreation Center, the VU students saw the Wright State fans take up the space they've sat for 18 of the previous 19 games.
The 200 who sat in the "official student" section were the beneficiaries of free tickets to the game. Additional students in the overflow sections purchased tickets at a discounted $10 price.
"It's a little bit of a hassle, because we're used to the other side," Hoaglin said. "In the past there's been a few students here and there, but this year we have such a die-hard group. A lot of games, the students are standing in the aisles, there's so many."