When then-junior midfielder Maya Fernandez-Powell slotted home her second goal of the game on March 28, it’s no surprise she expected to hear the roar of Hoya fans filling the stands of Shaw Field. After all, her brace had put the finishing touches on the Georgetown women’s soccer 7-0 landslide win over Villanova, a defining victory during the squad’s romp to another Big East Championship. Instead, all that could be heard were the shouts of her teammates and tinny voices coming from a small crew of fans peering through the gates.
Beginning last March, Shaw Field went from supporting 1,625 fans to sitting vacant. No spectators were allowed at any Georgetown sporting event from March 2020 to August 2021 due to health concerns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Some sports seasons, like volleyball and field hockey, were canceled outright. Teams that were able to return in the spring, such as women’s soccer, played for a nonexistent crowd. This fall, however, the return of a vaccinated student body to campus means that Georgetown’s athletes will once more be cheered on by their home fans.
This change will be a much-needed boost for any sports-oriented Hoya. Last season, fans had to make do with TV screens and limited opportunities to cheer on their favorite teams, separated from sports that are usually just a five-minute walk from their dorms. On the field, players had to overcome the flagging morale that was left without fan support.
“There is a huge difference,” Fernandez- Powell said of having loyal fans in the stands. “The atmosphere, the energy you get from the fans. It does give you that little extra edge when you’re playing.”
That’s not to say the year was a wash. Even without the benefits of their supporters, several Georgetown athletics teams put together exemplary seasons in 2021. Both men’s and women’s soccer competed in their respective NCAA tournaments, while men’s basketball returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years after their triumph in the Big East Championship. Men’s lacrosse won their third consecutive Big East title and made the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time since 2007, despite having no crowds on hand to see it.
“We cannot wait for everyone to return to the stands,” Declan McDermott, a then- junior starting midfielder on that lacrosse team, wrote in an email to the Voice. “The absence of fans last year has only made us more appreciative and grateful of the support from our friends and family.”
It’s difficult to acknowledge that no fans saw then-senior attack Jake Carraway break the school record for men’s lacrosse goals. No fans saw then- freshman guard Kelsey Ransom and the women’s basketball team race out to an early lead over National Player of the Year Paige Bueckers and the UConn Huskies in February. The year of not-quite-there sports, while necessary, could not come to an end soon enough.
According to a statement from Georgetown’s Athletic Department, plans for in-person sporting events are being worked out in collaboration with the D.C. government, NCAA, and Big East Conference as new information becomes available. At the moment, the expectation is that fans will have close to full access to most university athletic events, especially as many of Georgetown’s fall sports are outdoors and will likely be less vulnerable to changing COVID-19 conditions.
“In accordance with University COVID-19 guidelines, spectators will be allowed to attend both indoor and outdoors competitions with mask requirements in place at on campus, indoor venues,” the department wrote in a statement to the Voice. “Physical distancing is not required, but recommended for unvaccinated individuals.”
This is welcome news to Rachel Cherelstein (COL ’22), the president of Hoya Blue, a club supporting Georgetown’s athletes. In a normal year, Hoya Blue members would be present at almost every Georgetown game, leading chants and carrying infamous Fatheads of Bradley Cooper, John DeGioia, and Jesus Christ. But for the last 16 months, Cherelstein has led an organization that could not carry out its main functions.
This includes the trips that its members take to support Georgetown teams away from campus, which Cherelstein believes is Hoya Blue’s greatest bonding opportunity. Every year, the club brings Hoya pride to either Philadelphia or New York to watch the men’s basketball team take on a Big East rival.
The most well-remembered Hoya Bluetrip, according to Cherelstein, are the excursions down to Cary, N.C., to watch women’s soccer in the Final Four in 2018 and men’s soccer win their championship in 2019. Fernandez-Powell remembers appreciating that a dedicated contingent of fans had their back as they played against the hometown University of NorthCarolina.
“It’s always hard to play UNC but especially when they have thousands of people chanting ‘Tar Heels’ the whole game,” she said. “It meant a lot to have that group of people come down.”
The club has held out during the pandemic, continuing general body meetings, highlighting members, and experimenting with those aforementioned game watches, but nothing replaces the atmosphere that comes with cheering the Hoyas to victory in person.
“It’s definitely been difficult to center the club around Georgetown sports,” Cherelstein said. “Virtual game watches are next to impossible to do so in a way where it is also possible to speak to everyone who is there.”
Bringing fans back is about more than just the energy they provide to games. It’s also about the personal memories they help athletes build. Fernandez-Powell, now a senior, is excited that her parents and other family members will be able to once more see her play in person. They can surround her for her Senior Day, something last year’s seniors had to miss out on.
“Timing-wise, it kinda worked out in our favor that hopefully we will get our normal Senior Day and have our families here and friends and everyone here to support us,” she said.
In the coming months, fans will once more be able to catch a women’s basketball game at McDonough Arena or a football game at Cooper Field. Season ticket holders will be lining up to get on the bus to catch a men’s basketball game at Capital One Arena, and Shaw Field will be filled with the yell that wins the day. Fernandez-Powell’s message to students? Go.
“Hopefully this year there is even more energy out of the student body to come to games just because we have all been deprived of it for so long,” she said.
“I certainly will be attending as many other Georgetown athletics games as I can, and I hope everyone else does too.”