Iowa spirit squad no fair-weather volleyball fans


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Iowa fans have packed Kinnick Stadium for two home games this fall, with an average attendance of 70,585 people.

Iowa volleyball games, meanwhile, have an average attendance of 990 so far this season.

But the Iowa Spirit Squad is at every volleyball match.

The cheerleaders and dancers line up near the court during play and scamper onto the floor during time-outs and intermissions, and Herky roams the stands and interacts with as many fans as he can.

The cheerleaders and dancers participate at football, volleyball, wrestling, and both men's and women's basketball games, and Herky makes periodic appearances at every Iowa sport.

"We do the same cheers for pretty much everything we do," Spirit Squad coordinator and head cheerleading coach Greg Niemiec said. "We do our, 'Let's go, Hawks,' and or 'Iowa Hawkeyes,' all the same. We treat volleyball just like everything else."

But some say cheering at volleyball is harder.

"There are fewer people there than our other sports, and that does make it harder for us to do our job," cheer captain Anika Peterson said. "There are fewer people to interact with, and the people who are there are there to watch the game — not necessarily do whatever we tell them to do."

In addition to smaller crowds, the Spirit Squad is restricted by NCAA regulations to only Iowa's half of the court while the squad is on the sidelines and on the floor during time-outs. Herky is allowed to be in the stands, but has to stay away from the opposing team's side of the court.

Despite the extra challenges, the members of the squad said they enjoy cheering at volleyball games because Iowa volleyball fans are loyal and dedicated.

"I always see the same faces at volleyball games," captain Kyle Shimp said. "I always see the same students there, and the same parents in the stands, see the same little kids — and they're always cheering. It's obvious that they love volleyball because there's not very many people are there, but it's really loud for only that many people."

With fewer people in the stands, the Spirit Squad members can interact with more fans than at larger events. After service aces, the cheerleaders and dancers throw T-shirts to the crowd, and Herky has a chance to take photos with every fan that wants to meet him.

Peterson learns the names of Iowa's volleyball players so she can personally cheer for the Hawkeyes, making her more like just another loyal fan who happens to be on the court with the players.

"At the volleyball games, it's more about doing our job as cheerleaders, getting into the action of the game, and being a member of the audience," Peterson said. "At the football games it's more about an adrenaline rush and a performance, whereas at a volleyball game, we're really just out there to help support my school and my athletics teams. I really like that."

With a smaller crowd at a volleyball game, the fans can appreciate the squad more, Shimp said. Volleyball games give the Spirit Squad an opportunity to feel as if its members are making a difference for Hawkeye fans and Iowa athletes instead of just getting lost in the crowd.

"They do thrive on the excitement of having 70,000 people behind them," Niemiec said. "But at the same time, if you get a couple little kids yelling 'Let's go Hawks' with you at a volleyball game, you realize you're doing something really important to support the team and help it out."

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