The final notes of “The Star-Spangled Banner” were being played before the Charlotte 49ers men’s soccer team’s second-round NCAA tournament game, and the members of the Queen City Army were waiting for their cue.
With about 100 hands raised in unison, their fingers forming Charlotte’s trademark mining pick symbol, the fans chanted an oral exclamation point at the end of the tune: “And the home of the … Forty-Niners!” they shouted.
Transamerica Field provides one of the best home-field advantages in NCAA men’s soccer, and the fans known as the Queen City Army entrench themselves in the bleachers at midfield, doing its best to help the 49ers defend it.
Not only does Charlotte have one of the largest fan bases in the country – the 49ers had the 12th-biggest cumulative attendance in the NCAA this year, and 14th-best average attendance – the student fan group gives the home team a boost that not many other teams enjoy.
“I think we’re recognized by people that play us that we’re a pretty tough place to play because of the 12th-man element,” said Josh Fisk, a UNC Charlotte senior and secretary of the student fan group Niner Nation Gold.
“College soccer lacks that most of the time. The players definitely appreciate it,” Fisk said. “The energy that is in the stadium all changes when our team goes on a run or makes a good pass. I think it definitely contributes to the atmosphere.”
Niner Nation Gold is the term given to fans of any and all Charlotte 49ers sports. The Queen City Army refers more specifically to the student fans who primarily pledge allegiance to the men’s soccer team.
The Queen City Army was born during Charlotte’s run to the College Cup championship game in 2011. Seven buses of students made the trip to Hoover, Ala.
The enthusiasm toward the men’s soccer team poured into the next season. During 2012, the Queen City Army’s soldiers quietly gathered at games and gradually recognized that their common excitement was swelling into a movement.
When group leaders gathered before this season to plan their activities, one of them suggested that they pursue the status of an official UNCC student organization.
Through the Student Government Association, the QCA jumped through the hoops to establish a minimum number of members (15), submit a constitution and be supervised by a faculty adviser.
“The benefits of being a student organization is accessing some of SGA funding for tailgating and road trips if we have them,” said Nick Lavid, QCA president and Niner Nation Gold treasurer.
Lavid is one of the more dedicated QCA soldiers. He and four of his friends camped out in tents in 30 degree weather the night before last week’s NCAA tournament game against Coastal Carolina.
When game time came, the number of soldiers was fewer than at most games, probably due to the frigid evening air. But they were still much appreciated by the 49ers team.
After Charlotte’s 1-0 loss, fans lined the railing along the bottom row of the bleachers to thank the players for a memorable season. The 49ers’ players returned the favor, walking by and exchanging high-fives and hugs.
“The fans have been unbelievable all year,” senior midfielder Aidan Kirkbride said. “It drives you forward when you’re on the pitch and you hear them singing and chanting.
“It gives us the feeling that even if we’re down a goal, we can come back and score.”
Women’s soccer earns NSCAA award
Charlotte’s women’s soccer team received the Team Academic Award presented by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America for the 2012-13 academic year. The 49ers have received the award in each of John Cullen’s five seasons as head coach and in eight seasons overall.
Teams with a cumulative grade-point average of at least 3.0 (on a four-point scale) for the entire academic calendar are eligible. Thirteen of Conference USA’s 16 teams were honored this year.
Defense helping women win
The women’s basketball team is 2-0 when holding opponents under 60 points. The 49ers picked up a 62-52 victory over visiting Central Florida on Nov. 23.
Including last year’s 62-59 win, Charlotte topped 50 rebounds against the Knights for the second consecutive year. Sophomore Alexis Alexander led the 49ers with 12, a career high. Senior Ny Hammonds, a Concord High graduate, had nine points, eight rebounds and seven assists.