Band, cheerleaders are Nevada Wolf Pack’s ‘sixth man’
March 10, 2018
LAS VEGAS — The band's rhythm from horns and percussion permeated the still Las Vegas morning in front of The Palms Casino Resort.
Nevada's spirit squad with its cheerleaders, stuntmen and mascot led many Wolf Pack supporters in cheering Friday morning to send off the women's basketball team to its Mountain West Conference championship game against Boise State at UNLV's Thomas & Mack Center.
The enthusiasm whipped up by the students served as a strong reminder that the "sixth man" off the bench at men's and women's basketball games this season has come from the two energetic groups energizing the Nevada fan base and teams.
Shortly after 10 a.m. at The Palms, the pep band, called the Howlers, and the spirit squad greeted the women's basketball team as they filed from the hotel's main lobby to the bus. Tina Ruff, Nevada's associate athletics director of administration and alumni athlete relations, stood near the bus as players walked toward the door.
"I love the enthusiasm," Ruff said over the noise. "I've seen it with our men, but with our women going deep into the tournament championship, our fans have really stepped up," she said. "The enthusiasm has been there because Muss (men's coach Eric Musselman) has built his team over the last couple of years."
Now, she said, the fans are excited about the women's team, which won its first three games at the MWC tournament. (Boise State, though, won the championship later in the day at the buzzer, 62-60).
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"Many students are excited," she added.
Both the Howlers and spirit squad also entertained Nevada fans at a pre-game party on Thursday before the Nevada-UNLV men's basketball game and on Friday prior to the semifinal game against San Diego State. (The Aztecs upset the men's team later that night.)
Both Lauren Ensor from San Jose, Calif., and Kelly Canfield, a 2016 Carson High School graduate, both enjoy their roles as cheerleaders.
"Overall, the season has been amazing," said Canfield. "I never thought in a million years we'd be able to experience this at this school and cheer."
Ensor said it's been a great experience to cheer for the women's team this year and watch their success on the court along with the fans.
"We have some loyal fans who are always there," she said.
This is Canfield's first year traveling to the MWC championships.
"Each year has been more and more exciting, and our teams become better as the year goes on," said the sophomore. "Muss has brought a different vibe to the school."
Likewise, stuntmen Anthony Walsh, a senior who attended Spanish Springs High School, and Xavier Gonzalez, a junior from West Wendover on the Utah border, have also enjoyed cheering for the Pack.
Walsh, though, knows what it was like four years ago when both basketball teams struggled. Many fans quit attending the games.
"It's awesome," he said of this season. "Our teams have gotten better. I have a huge shout out to the women's team. I have never seen them do so good in this tournament."
Gonzalez said the cheerleaders have enjoyed leading the crowd during the regular season and in Las Vegas.
"We can pump up the arena," said Gonzalez, who was hoarse from his yelling at the games. "The women's team is an example of why we support our them. It was amazing to watch them in the tournament."
Logan Disdesano played in Fernley High School's band before attending the University of Nevada. Now in his third year with the Howlers, he enjoys their mission.
"We generate a lot of excitement," he said. "We tress a high amount of energy for the team and to get fans into the game."
Disdesano said he feels the Howlers are an extension of the team.
"People who come to the basketball game also want to see the band," he said.
Carson City's Erika Murray and Christopher Capshaw bring upbeat entrainment to the crowd and inspire the teams.
"Once we're here and have the music going, it helps everyone in the crowd," said the Nevada sophomore.
Capshaw said it means a lot to involve the Wolf Pack fans and an honor to be at the games.
Although the Nevada men lost Friday night, Capshaw said the Howlers also attend the NCAA tournament — providing the Wolf Pack receives a bid.
"Last year the ensemble traveled to Milwaukee (Nevada played in the first round in Wisconsin)," Canfield added.
As for the importance of the cheerleaders and the Howlers, Capshaw knows they make a difference to pump up Nevada's teams and serve as the first player off the bench.
"Sixth man? Definitely," Capshaw said.