by: Emily Honeycutt – Staff Writer
UNC Asheville students who attended the season-opener against Western Carolina University last Friday said they are ready for an exciting season of Bulldog basketball.
“The talent level of these athletes deserves recognition and going crazy at the basketball games adds so much to the atmosphere of campus and the school in general,” sophomore Kyle Hicks said.
The Bulldogs beat Western 71-61 in a heated match.
“The Western game was great because we got a pretty good turnout,” junior computer sciences major John Ruggiero said. “It’s good that our rivalry game was at a focal point of the season rather than an obscure time over winter break this year.”
Students were looking forward to the game, according to Hicks.
“It was an awesome experience,” Hicks said. “I’ve heard such a huge buzz all over campus about the excitement of basketball, and I think everyone was more than ready to start the season.”
Hicks is the president of the newly formed UNCA student organization Bulldog Nation.
“Bulldog Nation hopes to serve a few purposes with the main focus being support of our university through athletic support and community service,” Hicks said. “We are an actual student organization, and our committee is working hard to help draw student support, as well as hook them up with some freebies. Bulldog Nation is a collection of students united by a strong sense of pride in their campus and their student body.”
Hicks said basketball created the beginnings of Bulldog Nation.
“Basketball is the reason Bulldog Nation came to be,” Hicks said. “The fan support began to grow, and we decided it was time to get behind our athletes and our community.”
Ruggiero said there are several factors that contribute to the school spirit surrounding basketball.
“I think basketball is huge as far as school spirit goes because it is our most prestigious program, and the new arena makes it very exciting and accessible to students,” Ruggiero said.
Students expect a good season from both the men’s and women’s basketball teams.
“There is so much potential in this season coming off back-to-back Big South Conference tournaments championships that I can’t wait to see how packed we can get the Kimmel,” Hicks said. “Both our men’s and women’s teams have made apparent changes as programs in my three semesters here, and I’m really excited to see our new talent on both teams.”
New talent to watch on the men’s basketball team is freshman Charlotte native Will Weeks, who scored 13 points and collected six rebounds in his first game as a Bulldog.
The Bulldogs can see more wins and make it to the NCAA tournament again, Ruggiero said.
“I think the men’s team can surprise the conference and make it to the Dance again if we can play better together as a team,” Ruggiero said. “We have a lot of individual skill but need to meld better.”
Student involvement and support for athletics has increased, but there is still room for more, Hicks said.
“I would definitely say (school spirit) is on the rise, and the ceiling is still noticeable,” Hicks said. “From a packed crowd at the men’s soccer game on move-in day to the amount of shirts students bought, UNCA is excited about their athletics. Senior day for volleyball had a noticeably large student section, and I think that will just build in the coming seasons. Students are getting involved to have a great time.”