The most exciting sporting event at Duke on Saturday wasn’t the 58-55 football shootout at Wallace Wade, which was filled with three types of moments: oh-my-god-they-just-blew-it-again, oh-my-god-Jamison-Crowder-for-president and oh-my-god-I-can’t-believe-Duke-is-still-in-this. The event was at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and basketball season hasn’t even started yet.
The honor belongs Duke volleyball team, which upset No. 16 Illinois in four sets Saturday evening. The key to the win: members of the baseball, wrestling and women’s basketball teams… in addition to flawless execution on the court from the members of the volleyball team.
The game started with six boisterous Illinois fans standing in Section 17, decked out in all orange and screaming their Fighting Illini heads off. It was about what you’d expect and nothing inappropriate or original: yelling while the Blue Devils served, belting out the Seven Nation Army riff, etc. To their credit, they were louder than the several hundred Duke fans in attendance. With Cameron Indoor’s amplifying acoustics, six guys can be shockingly loud. And the Fighting Illini pulled out the first set 25-19, with Illinois seeming to take every long rally with dazzling digs and sizzling spikes.
In between the first and second sets, a number of the Duke athletes in attendance took action. After spending the first set scattered throughout the arena, they all moved down to Section 17 and completely surrounded those six Illinois fans in a sea of blue. If six people can make Cameron loud, 50 or so can make it way louder. The baseball team appeared to be the crew that rolled the deepest, and they were joined by a few wrestlers and women’s basketball players, including notables such as Chelsea Gray and Amber Henson. Even a few Duke football players came by: Brandon Braxton had just spent his afternoon catching five passes for 97 yards and a touchdown in a game that looked like it was more Madden 25 than actual football and still managed to make it. (Also worth noting: Crazy Towel Guy was there. He actually makes his way to a lot of non-basketball games, but I don’t think most people recognize him unless he’s sitting in Section 7, Row G, Seat 8 and waving a towel crazily.)
That crew of Duke fans completely drowned out those six Illinois fans for the rest of the match and the Blue Devils pulled out the next three sets. All of the long rallies that Illinois grinded out in the first set, Duke eked out the rest of the match.
This isn’t to credit the fans with winning the game. Elizabeth Campbell had 23 kills, nine more than anybody on Illinois. Jeme Obeime had 16 kills and spikes the ball with the power of 1,000 suns and Misty May-Treanor combined. I would rather be tackled by Sydney Sarmiento than face the fury of her spikes. Ali McCurdy—who is already Duke’s all-time leader in digs—and Sasha Karelov seemed to make an acrobatic dig on every single play.
They won the game on the court, and the impact of fans at most sporting events is minimal, if that effect exists at all. The athletes deserve 99.9 percent of the credit for a pretty awesome win.
But this column is about fans, and even if what the Duke student-athlete-fans did had no effect on the outcome, it was still pretty cool. It should be noted, athletes supporting other athletes is nothing new. The basketball players make their way to almost every football game and a number of other sporting events, and a few of them, including Rodney Hood, were at for the volleyball match. The volleyball players were sitting in the front row at the football game only a few hours earlier.
The initiative the athletes took Saturday, though, really stood out. Not that I ever played sports in front of a crowd that included anything more than parents, half of whom were doing crossword puzzles, but I imagine it really stinks to play in your home arena while the opposing fans are louder.
Try going to a volleyball game or soccer match if you have a time because as fun as it is to be a Cameron Crazie at a men’s basketball game, you really can have your voice heard at a non-revenue sport. After all, it only takes six fans to get rowdy.
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