Home away from home
For the past two seasons, every game has been an away game for Western men’s and women’s basketball teams.
Awaiting the completion of the Sam Carver Gymnasium renovation, expected to be completed in spring 2017, Western has been playing home games at Whatcom Community College’s Whatcom Pavilion.
Stacey Turrell, assistant coach for women’s basketball, said the lack of students with access to the games has impacted attendance.
“Obviously it’s a challenge not being on campus,” Turrell said. “We don’t get a lot of students that can come over and a lot of students don’t have cars.”
Tony Dominguez, Western men’s basketball head coach said having to play and practice on two different courts has taken away the home-court advantage feel.
“It’s not your home court,” Dominguez said. “You’re not practicing there on a daily basis.”
“We’re excited about the new venue we’re going back into, life has its challenges, so we’re not dwelling on that as a negative. [We’re] just trying to get through these few years.”
Western’s basketball teams have been practicing in the Wade King Student Recreation Center during the Carver Gym’s facelift, creating another downside.
“It’s like you’re on the road every evening,” Dominguez said. “You don’t even get to practice in that facility, so the teams you’re playing get just as much, or more, practice time than you do on the court.”
Playing in the Whatcom Pavilion does come come with some advantages for Western’s teams. For the players, competing in a smaller gym can yield an unlikely edge, Western men’s basketball senior guard Taylor Stafford said.
“You’re closer to the fans and you can feel the energy,” Stafford said. “In a [larger] arena the fans are distant. In Whatcom [Pavilion] the energy is really good and you can really feel that.”
In a smaller gym like the Whatcom Pavilion, which holds seating for about 650 people, the cheering from fans can be amplified easier than in a large arena.
“Teams in our conference are used to playing in bigger facilities,” Stafford said. “If a new player comes into the league who has never played in a small facility, that’s to our advantage.”
The drawbacks of having to play at Whatcom Pavilion, however, have not been completely erased.
“My first three years as a head coach, we lost three home games,” Dominguez said. “We play roughly 16 or 17 [home games] per year. Last year we lost six.”
But last season has become an afterthought for men’s basketball, who jumped to a 6-1 record at home this season.
“This year’s team has a different mentality,” Dominguez said. “It’s not something we’re really even talking about any more, we’re just used to it.”
The women’s team has fared better over the past two seasons, losing only two games this season.
“Being a little bit smaller, sometimes it feels like it’s a little bit more full,” Turrell said. “We feel like visitors in our home gym. We use their locker room, but we don’t really have a place to go.”
For students, it can be difficult at times attending games away from Western’s campus. Freshman Allie Johnson, a member of Western’s Viking Band, said she’s felt the downside of traveling.
“It’s annoying,” Johnson said. “There’s not a lot of fans and we end up paying a lot in gas money driving to [Whatcom Community College], especially if you live on campus.”
For Whatcom, the only drawbacks have been figuring out the scheduling for sports activities and games, Greg Spurgetis, Whatcom Community College’s associate director for athletics, said.
“There haven’t been too many challenges,” Spurgetis said. “I think the biggest thing is just coordinating the gym schedule for all our teams here.”
Despite having to be creative with scheduling, Spurgetis said sharing the gym has worked out favorably for Whatcom’s student athletes.
“Western has been great to deal with,” Spurgetis said. “We’ve enjoyed it. Our student-athletes here have enjoyed having access to the games. Overall, it’s been positive.”
Dominguez said he’s thankful for Whatcom’s willingness to share their limited gym time.
“I think that it’s certainly nice of Whatcom Community College to allow us to play our games there,” Dominguez said. “They have their own games, so we’re very gracious for that.”
Dominguez said his team is eager to begin playing their games back on campus.
“We’re excited about the new venue we’re going back into,” Dominguez said. “Life has its challenges, so we’re not dwelling on that as a negative. [We’re] just trying to get through these few years.”