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Fan ‘energy’ returns

Fans return to SMSU games, parents cheer on prep athletes

Photos by Jake Przytarski Above: A group of fans cheers on the SMSU women’s basketball team during Saturday’s game against Augustana University. Below: Two fans cheer on the Marshall wrestling team during Saturday’s triangular meet against Blue Earth Area and Jackson County Central.

MARSHALL — The Recreation/Athletic Facility Gym at Southwest Minnesota State University had an unfamiliar buzz for this weekend’s slate of women’s basketball games against Augustana University.

For the first time this season, up to 150 family members were permitted to attend Friday and Saturday’s games against the Vikings following Thursday’s press release from SMSU announcing the changes. According to SMSU Athletic Director Chris Hmielewski, the difference in atmosphere was apparent for everybody involved with fans back in the stands.

“The difference our staff has noticed is the energy in the facility. I think the student athletes and the coaches really feed off that energy,” said Hmielewski. “In wrestling on Thursday and then women’s basketball here this weekend, there’s definitely been a noticeable difference, and I think what we’re seeing on the court is an enhanced level of play because of that energy.”

Hmielewski said the update in fan attendance policy came about after a great deal of planning and preparation.

“We’ve been preparing for a long time to have fans and so it was good for our coaches and for our student athletes for all of the hard work they’ve put in to be able to have family members and friends in the stands,” said Hmielewski. “It means a lot to them because they work hard in practice and so the ability to have fans here to go ahead and see how the hard work has paid off speaks volumes specifically to the seniors on our women’s basketball team.”

COVID precautions were put in place for spectators attending the games with self-assessment forms needed to be filled out prior to entering the gym. Upon entering the gym, fans had their temperatures taken and were required to wear masks and socially distance throughout the event.

Brett Wall, father of SMSU sophomore Sam Wall, had been watching all of the games virtually prior to the change in policy. He said there’s no comparison to seeing all of the action up close with fellow Mustang fans.

“It’s a lot better to come see it in person,” said Wall.

On the other side of MN Highway 23, it was business at usual for Saturday’s triangular meet at Marshall High school with Blue Earth Area and Jackson County Central in town to take on the Marshall Wrestling team. As its been all season long, 150 fans were allowed to enter the gym for the event with mask protocols and social distancing rules in place to prevent the spread of COVID.

The Tigers were unable to come away with a win in their matches against the Buccaneers and Huskies, but being able to attend the matches was something that Mike Felcyn, father of Marshall wrestler Cole Felcyn, is grateful for.

“It’s absolutely great. We’re thankful for it. I’ve attended all of (the home matches) and I think all of the fans would say the same thing as well,” said Felcyn.

While the atmosphere still isn’t quite the same as a result of the restrictions, Felcyn said being able to see the action up close makes it all worth it.

“In all honesty, it’s a little awkward with the masks and there’s less people in the gyms because of the restrictions, but we’ll take what we can get,” Felcyn added.

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