Chattanooga’s Southern Conference dominance has taken what head coach Wes Moore called “a two-year hiatus.” Last night, it returned to the top, locking up its first Southern Conference regular season championship since 2009-10.
Moore expressed his happiness for his team after its 67-59 win over Davidson, especially his two seniors Kayla Christopher and Kylie Lambert, but he also singled out another key contributor: The sixth man—or woman.
“Also for our fans,” Moore said, “They’ve been awesome. There’s no comparison to our fans and our fan base to everybody else’s in the conference. Saturday night, 2,700, and then come back on a Monday night and have over 2,300. I wanted us to get back for them as well.”
UTC closed out the home portion of its schedule Monday, and with the McKenzie Arena crowd listed at 2,336, the Lady Mocs set a new school record for average attendance in a season at 2,550 for their 13-game home slate.
A respectable number for any conference in America, but for the SoCon, it’s unparalleled.
“It’s a special place,” Christopher said “I think it’s the people here brining the energy. The band; the band is awesome. It’s fun being here and we definitely love playing here.”
It’s made a difference on the court, too.
Chattanooga hasn’t lost a game at the Roundhouse in two seasons, and the team’s school-record 26-game home winning streak is the second-longest in the country, trailing only top-ranked Baylor (54 games).
The largest Lady Mocs crowd during that stretch—8,468—helped propel the squad to its season-opening 80-71 win over No. 20 Tennessee.
“I think we’ve been able to feed off the crowd all season long,” UTC senior Kayla Christopher said. “We have a great fan base here. It’s unbelievable. We obviously have a great home-court advantage because we haven’t lost here in two years. We’re definitely able to feed off the energy in here.”
The impressive crowds don’t just give the Lady Mocs that extra boost, though. It takes a little out of their opponents, too.
“I know Karen Middleton from Western [Carolina] commented the other day about the atmosphere, and how it took her kids a while to get used to it,” Moore said. “There’s no doubt that the sixth man— the sixth person—is a factor here at McKenzie.”
Just ask UTC junior Ashlen Dewart, a transfer from Appalachian State. She’s seen it from both sides.
“There’s not another gym like this in the Southern Conference, especially for women’s games,” Dewart said. “Our crowd is unheard of in this conference. It gives us a huge amount of energy; a huge push in games. We couldn’t do it without them. They give us energy; they back us up. Even when we’re down, they cheer us on.
“It’s just amazing to have the support that we have from the other athletes here, the students and our fans. Even the fans that drive seven hours to Charleston. It’s just amazing to have that kind of support.”
Chattanooga closes out its regular-season schedule Saturday at Appalachian State. The Lady Mocs play at 2 p.m., followed by the UTC men’s game against the Mountaineers at 4:30 p.m.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.