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For those of you familiar with football, you’ll recognize the phrase “the 12th man” as referring to a home team’s loud crowd. Opposing teams get especially rattled playing in the home stadiums or gyms of teams with big fan bases.

Home crowd environments can be a team’s most valuable aspect off the court. This advantage isn’t a new phenomenon in sports. In the case of volleyball, the crowd can be something like “the seventh man” that supplements the six players already on the court.

Last Saturday night, McMaster beat Ottawa in straight sets in what was arguably the Marauders’ most dominating performance of the season. The next day they beat Guelph 3-1 in a matinee match, but there was a noticeable difference. The crowd was electric during the Ottawa match.

Third-year outside hitter Maicee Sorensen knows how much of an impact noise has on a team.

“A huge part of our energy in the Ottawa match is credited to our bench. They found some new creative ways to entertain the crowd and motivate the players on the court. Every person on this team is contributing, whether they are on the court or not,” said Sorensen.

The energy during the Guelph match was noticeably lower.

“It was a peculiar environment,” said Louks.  “When that whistle went that crowd sat on its hands. It was peculiar. The whole festive environment seemed to be not festive.”

This is not a team making excuses about performance, but about a phenomenon that really does have an impact on the game being played. When a gym is filled with people in a school’s color and cheering loudly for the home team, there are positive effects. In contrast, if a gym is barely populated and you can hear a pin drop, something changes. Coaches and players notice it. They’ll still play the game and fight to win, but there’s an extra kick missing — a teammate, even.

“Sometimes when the crowd isn’t producing you need to take matters into your own hands. This sometimes means making a fool of yourself, but when you see your teammates’ reactions it’s totally worth looking silly,” Sorensen said. “One of the most important parts of volleyball is getting the person beside you to play their best. Every player is motivated in different ways, but crazy celebrations are one way to motivate all personalities.”

In their match against Guelph last Sunday, McMaster jumped out to a two-set lead before struggling to put Guelph away until the fourth set. They needed to hit an extra gear to finish Guelph off. They needed their seventh man.

“We were tired because it was our second game in a back-to-back, but we didn’t know we were going to be that tired. When you’re in that situation you need to ride that ‘seventh man’,” said Louks. “That has to help get us over the hump sometimes. We needed some help because we knew we were going to be a bit tired.”

Crowd energy isn’t essential to a team’s success, but it doesn’t hurt them either. It gives positive energy to the home team, while rattling the visiting team. Ultimately, as a spectator, you hope that the small things you do in the bleachers have just enough effect to help swing the match in your team’s favor. It’s a real thing and sometimes it’s what a team needs to finish their job and hit that fifth gear when they feel they have nothing left.

“Sometimes when the crowd isn’t producing you need to take matters into your own hands.”

Up next for the Marauders are road trips to Windsor on Jan. 29 and Western on Jan. 30. Both matches start at 6 p.m.

Photo Credit: Alistar Boulby

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