The South Carolina women's basketball team wrapped up its second championship season in five years among a cacophony of horns, drums and chants at the Target Center in Minneapolis this April.
While the crowd roared and the buzzer sounded, the Carolina Basketball Band filled the arena with "Step to the Rear," USC's fight song, a signal of the team's victory. The Carolina Basketball Band transformed the arena into an energizing environment for the women's basketball team's second championship win.
Back in Columbia, the atmosphere in Colonial Life Arena is "electric,” according to second-year criminology and criminal justice student Reed Wentz.
The band leads chants with its music, uniting the fans and team with a constant rhythm and beat. Jay Jacobs, the band's director, said he enjoys what he does because he likes seeing the students getting excited about their music.
“That's the best part for me, just to be able to kind of turn around and go, 'Yeah, they're enjoying this, they're having fun.' And that's what it's all about,” Jacobs said. “That interaction with the crowd, with the other students that are there, with the teams and the coaches.”
The band's music contributes a lot to the energy of the crowd at basketball games, especially when crucial plays are happening, Wentz said.
“A lot of the energy does come from (the band) because even when there isn't a large audience," Wentz said. "We still have enough sound and presence to actually make an impact on stuff. Especially free throws."
The atmosphere does not only unite students, the music also creates a community with everyone at the game.
“They love the teamwork,” Jacobs said. “That goes with the cheerleaders and Carolina Girls at basketball and just being part of that whole atmosphere-generating group of people.”
Jacob creates an atmosphere of inclusivity to inspire the band to continue to achieve. Bryan Wolf, a third-year public health student and trumpet player, emphasizes Jacobs' encouragement to make all band members feel included.
“I think he does a lot to help make everyone feel welcome in the band," Wolf said. "He’ll call you by your first name. It's kind of crazy because it's like 350 people, and you're like, how does he know me?” Wolf said.
The environment of the band is not what drew Wolf to the band, however. At an SEC school, band members may feel motivated to be able to watch and play for the game, Jacobs said.
“I knew I wanted to do marching band in college," Wolf said. "In high school growing up, I loved college sports, and I really liked basketball and March Madness. So it’s kind of a no-brainer.”
Wolf is not alone in his interest in sports drawing him to join the band. Many other students join the basketball band to be a part of the electric atmosphere of Colonial Life Arena.
“The students come in with a lot of enthusiasm, and I think, like everybody, students have their own favorite sports and things, so a lot of them are really drawn to basketball and want to be there,” Jacobs said.
Wentz was one of the band members who were able to attend the Final Four last year. The trip allowed the band and the team to get to know each other while fighting for the championship.
“The women's team in general, we had a really good bond with them,” Wentz said. “We were actually in the same hotel as them, so on our off hours, you'd be playing pool or Uno with them.”
Playing for the band has opened opportunities for the students that they would not have already had such as being in the stands on such a monumental day, Wentz said.
"This past year, where we actually got to travel and it was a full season and our women's team winning the national championship," Wolf said. "It was kind of a dream come true."