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On August 28, the Cal State San Marcos men's soccer team made the short trip to La Jolla to face off against UC San Diego. To the casual observer, it was a mismatch: UCSD, an established and nationally competitive NCAA Division II school, playing at home against a Cal State San Marcos program in just its fourth year of existence as a competitor in the NAIA.
It would be the first game of the 2009 season for both teams and a large crowd was expected. What was unexpected, however, was who that crowd would be cheering for. Despite being outnumbered roughly 4-to-1, a boisterous group of Cougar fans nearly drowned out the home team's supporters for all 90 minutes with chants, cheers, and encouragement for the visiting side.
"Our fans were awesome," said Head Coach Ron Pulvers. "They were chanting and singing as they walked up to the field."
Though the Cougars would lose the closely-played game 1-0 on the field, there was no denying who won the battle of the fans.
From their first season in 2006, Coach Pulvers' men's and women's soccer teams have enjoyed a level of fan support that is rare — if not unprecedented — amongst NAIA schools. As was the case at the UCSD season opener, it's not as much about numbers as it is enthusiasm. Cougar fans bring horns, trumpets, drums, and originally-written chants to each game, supporting the teams and providing an exceptionally difficult environment for opponents.
"There is nowhere we play that even comes close to the fan base we have at home," commented Pulvers.
Since the beginning, the driving force behind this support has been the students themselves — students like Gary Osberg and Alex Hand.
Gary Osberg was a fan of CSUSM soccer before CSUSM had a soccer team. He remembers campaigning for the Athletics' fee referendum back in 2003, which was the key step to bringing soccer (as well as baseball and softball) to campus.
"From the first game I was hooked," commented Osberg. "I've been spreading the word ever since."
Osberg has attended nearly all of Cougar soccer's home games, and you can usually find him leading the chants, or playing the loudest horn. When he's not cheering the Cougars on, he's spreading the word about them by printing and distributing his own marketing material and inviting everyone he knows to the games.
While Osberg is the heart of the Cougar fans, Alex Hand is the head. After taking a date to the program's first-ever game, he fell in love — with Cougar soccer. Hand has helped organize numerous fan activities, including 2009's "Cougar Clash" tailgate event, and was a founding member of the "Blue Crew" — the loudest and most passionate segment of Cougar fans.
"We're all about being inclusive," said Hand. "Anyone who will come out and cheer loud can be a part of the Blue Crew."
The advantage provided by the Blue Crew is tangible, and nowhere is it more apparent than in the wins column. Heading into the 2009 season, Cougar women's soccer held a regular season home record of 12-6-3 (66.7 winning percentage) compared to a 10-11-5 (47.6%) record on the road. For the men, it was even more lopsided: a startling 13-5-4 (72.2%) record at home versus a 13-15-0 (46.4%) mark on the road.
But that's only half the story. For Alex, Gary, and the dozens of other students who loyally and vocally support Cougar soccer, this is a unique way to connect to the University. "It brings so much campus pride and spirit," commented Hand. "As soon as students are out there at their first game they are instilled with campus spirit forever."
Though the Blue Crew is currently focused on soccer, both Alex and Gary believe that if baseball and softball were on campus they would be making their presence felt there as well. "We would leave a legacy," laughed Osberg.
It's clear that right now, these Cougar soccer fans are leaving a legacy of raucous cheering, team support, and school spirit.
"There is nowhere we play that even comes close to the fan base we have at home."
–Ron Pulvers, CSUSM Head Soccer Coach
"We're all about being inclusive. Anyone who will come out and cheer loud can be a part of the Blue Crew."
–Alex Hand, Head of the Cougar Blue Crew