GV basketball seniors reflect on no crowds at games


Holly Bihlman, Staff Writer

After a full year of COVID-19 living, Grand Valley State University athletes have had some time to adapt and embrace some of the changes being made to slow the spread of the virus. With constant COVID-19 testing, socially distanced practices and workouts, and less time to play the sports our athletes love, COVID-19 has taken its toll on this past year while also strengthening students in ways we may not realize.

One of the biggest factors in keeping athletes motivated involves the strength of the crowds, but this year, the Lakers have had to adapt to playing in silent stadiums. Michigan Governor, Gretchen Whitmer announced on Jan. 22n that stadiums with less than 10,000 seats can occupy 20% capacity, which doesn’t leave much room for fans. With this new regulation, GVSU has already started pumping crowd noises into home games, including basketball games in the Fieldhouse. 

A Senior on the men’s basketball team, Christian Negron said games feel much different without the support of the crowds. 

“You can’t ignore the element of the fans, they’re such a big part of college basketball,” Negron said. “I get really into it and you definitely miss them there and you definitely miss playing in front of your classmates and other GV athletes who come to support you.”

Negron talked about missing the support of his family at games nowadays, and especially always being able to spot his mom’s voice in the crowds. Kiri Tiemeyer, a senior on the women’s basketball team, talked about a similar feeling: missing her parents’ support at the games in her last year at GVSU. 

“When I’m playing the games, I’m always really focused in, so it’s not like it really bothers me and I don’t really notice the fans in the stands,” Tiemeyer said. “It’s more or less just after the game, looking up and seeing my parents there knowing after the game I get to go sit with them and watch the guys game and talk about what happened.”

For some, however, the big crowds at home games isn’t really missing from their experience. Tiemeyer thinks that a lack of crowd may affect younger athletes on her team that have never played at the college level before this year. Their high school experience isn’t much different from what’s going on now, so their motivation might actually helps the girls on the team who are really missing the bigger crowds. 

“We have a lot of young kids that never really got to experience the big college experience with all the fans in the stands,” Tiemeyer said. “I think that’s kind of nice as well because they’re super used to it so it’s not that different for them. As close of a team as we are, we always have a lot of energy on the bench and everyone’s always picking each other up, which I think helps a lot.”

In many ways, the internal motivation athletes have to win is amped up through the support of each other when there’s no audiences to help out. Both basketball teams have experienced a closer bonding experience with playing this season in empty stadiums, because when it comes down to it, their love for the game is what they’re really on the court for. 

“You definitely want the fans there, but for us, it’s (still) worth it because we’re just happy to be out there playing again,” Negron said. “Especially playing at home, you definitely feed off them a lot. One thing I notice is once you go a few trips up and down (the court), it doesn’t really feel that different; basketball is basketball, it’s just back to the fundamentals really, and we’re all just locked in.”

Similarly, Tiemeyer agreed that the crowd noises GVSU has been putting in through the speakers in the Fieldhouse helps out a lot, but what really keeps her going is the companionship she’s found through her team both on and off the court this year. 

“You just kind of have to create your own energy every game, obviously the crowd does help, especially in tight situations,” Tiemeyer said. “Because you just never really know what’s going on, you have to really adapt to that and go with the flow. But it’s also kind of brought us together as a team and I think it’s built up our chemistry. It’s helped us outside of basketball as well as on the court, and I think it comes from the unknown, so we just have to stick together.”

As difficult of a year as it has been to get back to watching and playing the sports the students at GVSU love, athletes can always be found practicing somewhere, whether it’s individually or as a team. Their motivation to win is what keeps them going, and their love for the game is what makes them a team. Students and fans can only hope one day soon they’ll be back to watching live games in person.