The start of the 2017-18 season is less than two months away, but Ashland University's women's basketball team already is drawing a crowd.
Dozens of fans came to the Cheyenne Spidel Memorial Pavilion at the Ashland County Fair on Tuesday (Sept. 19) night to see the Eagle women – to celebrate the program's 2016-17 NCAA Division II national championship and to get ready for the upcoming campaign.
The faces in the crowd mirrored those among the four-digit numbers of fans who came to Ashland's games on the road to its second national championship in five seasons.
"Our community support is incredible," said Ashland head coach Robyn Fralick, who once again dubbed the team's fans "The Purple Swarm." "We're very thankful for it. We feel like it's something that separates our program. The support we have at home games, on the road…tonight was just another great example of why we are so thankful to be a part of the Ashland community."
Sophomore guard Renee Stimpert, an Ashland native who prepped at nearby Crestview High School, wasn't surprised by Tuesday night's turnout.
"The Ashland community is so loyal to us," Stimpert said. "It's the main reason why I think we won the national championship last year, just the support game in and game out."
Sophomore guard Sarah Hart, a transfer from Division I St. Bonaventure, heard about the support the team has received in the past, but saw it firsthand on Tuesday night.
"I think it super-unique and cool that people in the community support us as much as they do," Hart said. "You look at other places, and they may have good women's basketball programs, but I think a lot of the community doesn't come out and support them as much as Ashland does, and I think that's really special.
"It's cool that the community wants to get to know you. They tell you about it, but you don't quite understand it until people come up and start talking to you."
Ashland's regular season begins on Nov. 10-11 at the 2017 Exempt Tournament at Cedarville. Before that, however, the Eagles will play road exhibition games against Division I Ohio State on Oct. 29 at 2 p.m. and Connecticut on Nov. 5 at 1 p.m.
The Eagle women completed Division II's first 37-0 women's or men's basketball season in 2016-17, scoring a D-II women's hoops-record 3,456 points in the process. It was the program's second national championship.
Ashland will go into 2017-18 with the longest winning streak (37 games) of any basketball team, men or women, at any level of the NCAA.
"We're excited about the upcoming season," Fralick said, "and there's an anticipation that surrounds it. An event like tonight, it only adds to it, increases it. And you remember that your platform for playing is bigger than just basketball."