The SIU student section has been underwhelming in recent years, but this season the group is instilled with a new spirit and aims to return to its merciless former ways.
The Dawg Pound was once a terror at Saluki home games, but when things began to slide downhill for the SIU basketball team in recent years, including the 2011-2012 team that went 8 and 23, the student section also declined.
“A lot of it comes down to wins and losses,” executive board member Sam Donets said. “It is a whole new generation of kids. No one at this school has seen a winning basketball team. The mentality was, ‘What is the point of cheering if we will lose?’ Now students are starting to get into the game.”
Donets, a graduate student in sports administration from Glenview, said he began attending the majority of Saluki home games in 2009 with his roommate Adam Boothe, a Dawg Pound executive board member. Donets realized that the student section wasn’t the rambunctious crowd of fanatics he had seen in years past.
“I started to go to more and more games, and it was obvious that the student section was dying,” he said. “The team wasn’t performing as well as it should have been.”
Donets became a part of the executive board the following season and was essentially handed the reigns of the group because the majority of its leaders had graduated. He began to recruit new board members out of the crowd, anyone that showed some heart and energy. The recruitment led to the accumulation of the current group of board members. Today, the group has nearly 600 members, around 100 more than last season’s total.
Jake Holtkamp, a sophomore from Centralia studying marketing, has been a part of the executive board for two years and said he wanted to help the Dawg Pound because he had seen how enthusiastic it could be.
“I grew up a big Saluki fan,” he said. “Both of my parents went to school here. I came to several games as a kid when the Dawg Pound was in its heyday.”
Colin White, a freshman from Villa Park studying secondary education, said he joined the Dawg Pound because he had become a part of a revived student section in high school and wanted to see the Dawg Pound improve. White said Hinson has been a tremendous help in encouraging a loud, excited student section.
“If teams are doing well, more people are going to come out for the game,” he said. “If your coaching staff is positive and enthusiastic, it encourages the student section to really come out. I think Coach Hinson has a strong presence at this school and really embraces the student section.”
Hinson said he enjoyed the student turnout at the Salukis’ 57-54 win over Fresno State Nov. 28, and realizes the effect a good student section can have on the outcome of the game.
“I was elated with the student turnout (at the game),” he said. “We need our sixth man, we cannot win without our sixth man. We have a crowd that can be great. Everyone knows you can win from excitement from your home crowd.”
Donets said the executive board has tried to promote the Dawg Pound more this season by passing out flyers, handing out tickets and holding cheer practices.
The Salukis’ record hasn’t hurt student turnout either.
SIU was given low expectations this season after Lowery was fired Mar. 2 following the team’s dreadful 2011-12 campaign, and Hinson was hired in his place. This year’s squad was voted to finish last in the Missouri Valley Conference in the preseason coaches poll but is off to a 4-1 start.
Sophomore forward Dantiel Daniels said he has noticed a change in the student section this season.
“The student section was loud, and it was good to see that versus Fresno State,” he said. “I was very impressed with the Dawg Pound. Before, I’ve seen like five people.”
Donets said the Dawg Pound has plenty of room to grow and improve, and he hopes to compete with strong student sections in the MVC like Northern Iowa’s. Like a true Dawg Pound member, he was sure to aim his compliment away from the Salukis’ biggest rival, Creighton.
“Most teams in the Valley have strong fan bases that we can compare to,” he said. “Besides Creighton. No one should want to be like someone from Creighton.”