Dawg Pound hits the road to Normal: Students plan a bus trip to Illinois State

Mens+basketball+player+Dalton+Banks%2C+left%2C+holds+a+sign+and+chants+in+support+along+side+his+teammates+Markus+Domask%2C+middle%2C+and+Kyler+Filewich+%2Cright%2C+during+the+Salukis+3-0+match+win+over+the+University+of+South+Carolina+-+Upstate+on+Friday%2C+Sept.+10%2C+2021+during+the+Saluki+Invitational+at+the+Banterra+Center+at+SIU.+

Jared Treece | @bisalo

Men’s basketball player Dalton Banks, left, holds a sign and chants in support along side his teammates Markus Domask, middle, and Kyler Filewich ,right, during the Salukis 3-0 match win over the University of South Carolina – Upstate on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021 during the Saluki Invitational at the Banterra Center at SIU.

The Dawg Pound packs section 105 of the Banterra Center every time the Salukis play at home. On Saturday, when the men’s basketball team visits Illinois State, the Dawg Pound will be joining them at Redbird Arena.

Funded by a few alumni donors, 40 students will be taking a bus trip up to Normal, Illinois, to watch the Salukis take on the ISU Redbirds. Tickets to the game, as well as transportation, are free to students due to the financial backing of the aforementioned donors.

“I’m very blessed to know that we have great community backing and a great support group from everyone on campus, and just everywhere. It’s truly a blessing,” Dawg Pound President Dylan Chambers said.

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Normally, athletic programs go through stretches where they have to rebuild, whether it be due to a poor recruiting stretch, a change in coaching staff, or any number of other factors. For the Dawg Pound, it’s due to not being able to go to games.

When the COVID-19 pandemic cut the 2020 basketball, baseball, and softball seasons short, fans were left without Salukis to cheer for. As basketball returned in winter 2020-21, fans were not allowed to attend games due to COVID protocols, and football games in the spring were played at very limited capacity.

Football season in the fall 2021 marked a return to the stands for all Saluki fans, including the Dawg Pound. It was the first time in a year and a half that a sense of normalcy returned to Saluki athletics.

“I think when football started, and we were averaging 2-3,000 students per game, it was perfect,” Chambers said. “And now, doing the same thing for basketball, filling that Pound, it’s just a complete shock to me.”

Saturday’s bus trip to Normal is another milestone in the return of the Dawg Pound. While trips to road games have been common in the past, this will be the first since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“I think we’re gonna have a great experience and a great time,” Chambers said. “We’re on the road to success.”

The Dawg Pound has been consistently cited by men’s basketball coach Bryan Mullins as a vital part of Saluki basketball. The team is 8-3 this season at the Banterra Center, two of those losses coming with a 1-point margin.

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“It’s been special this year,” Mullins said. “It’s a big part of our campus, it’s a big part of our community, our university, is how much everyone supports each other.”

Mullins was on the 2008 Saluki team that hosted ESPN College Gameday at the then-SIU Arena. A challenge Mullins set out to Saluki fans is to recapture that atmosphere from the program’s heyday a decade and a half ago.

“It means a lot that those students are coming,” Mullins said.

The modern Dawg Pound recognizes the impact it can have on a game, and aims to meet that challenge every time the Salukis step onto the court.

“I think the Dawg Pound plays a big factor in everything, like that ‘sixth man’ should do,” Chambers said. “Trying to do their best to be another body in the game.”

“Our fans are amazing. We played a couple road games in the Valley, and right now it doesn’t even compare,” sophomore guard Dalton Banks said.

Chambers has plans for future trips, including one for the upcoming Arch Madness tournament where the Salukis will play for a Missouri Valley Conference championship and a chance to join the field of 68 at the NCAA Tournament.

“We’re planning on doing another one for March to go to St. Louis,” Chambers said. “I think we’re gonna do another one for football, and then we’re definitely gonna do one for Murray State when we play them next year.”

As the Dawg Pound hits the road to Normal, they make another step towards a return to the pre-pandemic experience that college athletics offers. It’s a step towards what students expected when they chose Southern Illinois University. It’s a step towards normal.

Staff reporter Brandyn Wilcoxen can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Brandyn_2020. To stay up to date with all your Southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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