By Carrie Arnold
Sports Staff Writer
Fans fill the seats of Greenwood Soccer Field, watching as the UNC Asheville Bulldogs take on Wofford. A player’s foot meets the ball, sending it flying into the opponent’s goal, securing a win for the home team.
An eruption of cheers comes from the crowd. One group of screaming fans is louder than the rest — their cheers from 200 unified voices accompanied by the beat of drums and a hurricane siren. The Bulldog Brigade has cheered on yet another victorious match for the soccer players.
Alexander Achorn has been the director of marketing and fan engagement for only two months at UNC Asheville but that was all the time he needed to see the potential for a designated student fan club.
“We thought something that would work well here would be to gather the students together and make them feel a part of something bigger,” Achorn said.
At the beginning of the semester Achorn met with soccer coaches who agreed there was already a good base of students attending matches to support their team, but felt unifying them would benefit the crowds and teams alike.
“I’ve always been a sports fan,” Achorn said. “I was always that guy who realizes students can make just as much of an impact sometimes as the athletes as long as there’s a good crowd there.”
The Bulldog Brigade is in its first year, with six jam-packed home games of experience to show for it. Membership is free and comes with perks for loyal members, like pizza parties before matches. Achorn is also working to get members T-shirts and scarves to wear during matches as well as flags to wave.
“If you have school spirit for UNC Asheville and you want to see our teams do well, then you will fit right in,” Achorn said.
Prior to matches, players will be on the field practicing. Fans are often present during warm-ups, watching the players prepare for the game. Achorn and the Bulldog Brigade use that time to practice chants and strategize ways to intimidate the other team before marching to the match together.
Katie Tuorto, a women’s soccer player and senior business and psychology student said she appreciates the support.
“It’s really really awesome,” Tuorto said. “From what I saw the crowd was definitely more present.”
Achorn said the Bulldog Brigade creates energy to build a home-field atmosphere to intimidate the opposing team.
“They’ve had drums in the past and now we’re trying to do more with it,” Achorn said. “We have a hurricane siren. We have flags, but we’re trying to get individual flags for the fans as well as all the brigade members.”
Bella Iorio, a women’s soccer player and junior health and wellness promotion student joined the Bulldog Brigade after receiving their support during a match.
“Some of the guys on the men’s team were playing the drums and cheering at one of our games,” Iorio said. “I thought that was super cool and motivating. After that we wanted to show the same support they showed us and we got more people involved.”
Women’s Soccer Head Coach Michelle Demko said she has witnessed an increase in attendance and enthusiasm from the crowd since the Bulldog Brigade has started attending matches.
“I have noticed there are larger crowds at our home games,” Demko said. “I can hear the drums from our bench area which really adds to the game atmosphere. I love the energy the Bulldog Brigade brings to our game day experience.”
After the first match approximately 100 students were interested in joining the Bulldog Brigade and signed up. Since then, membership has grown to almost 250 students who have attended at least one home soccer game. Achorn said he looks forward to adding more sports to the Brigade’s schedule.
“We didn’t expect this much success for the first year. We were hoping this was something that would build up,”Achorn said. “Once basketball starts up I’m sure we’ll get a lot of good energy for that as well.”
For sophomore biology student Kyle Adams, being a member of the Bulldog Brigade gives him the opportunity to encourage his friends on the field and to have fun with his friends in the seats.
“Not only was it cool to support the women’s team in that way, but we got to laugh and really enjoy our time there as well,” Adams said. “Also, this was the first time that I had been a part of something like that at a soccer game so that was pretty neat, too.”
On Saturday the women’s soccer team will play against Longwood University at 2 p.m. The Bulldog Brigade will be there with special guests — fans’ dogs. Attendees can bring their four-legged friend to Greenwood Field and participate in the World Pup Game. The event will be the halftime entertainment and the Bulldog Brigade will have toys for dogs to play with during the match.