They’re the defending Missouri Valley champions, off to the best start in school history, led by an ardent coach and a smothering defense.
It’s a familiar formula for fans of the men’s basketball program at Wichita State. But university officials want fans to discover there is another team that plays the same brand of basketball and is also racking up the wins.
That’s why on Saturday, the WSU women will play Northern Iowa at Koch Arena 30 minutes after the conclusion of the men’s game, estimated to be around 5:45 p.m. Fans who purchased a ticket to the men’s game are encouraged to stay for the women’s game, free of charge.
“We just want to get our fans exposed to the women’s game,” said Jason Malay, assistant director of marketing at WSU. “We’re not worried about them coming back, we just want to get them there. Because they’re going to connect with the team on the court and see how hard they play and the style they play and they’re going to realize it’s a special program.”
As far as the Valley is concerned, Wichita State has always been one of the more well-attended programs. But as the wins under coach Jody Adams have surged, so have the fans. This season WSU is averaging 2,537 through seven home games, which is good for 44th nationally out of 348 programs.
But WSU officials think the ceiling has yet to be reached.
After all, the Shockers (12-2) are on an 11-game winning streak, best in school history, and have talented athletes such as Alex Harden and Jamillah Bonner to go along with a bundle of energy in Michelle Price. Officials are optimistic that a good portion of the men’s sellout of 10,506 will stay out of loyalty or curiosity.
“We know there are going to be people that are going to leave, but we really do think there will be a lot that stay,” Malay said. “There’s a large chunk of Shocker fans that are Shocker fans regardless of the sport and that are going to stick around and show their support.”
Malay and Darron Boatright, WSU’s senior associate athletic director, said WSU has ramped up its marketing campaign for the women this year. Since the men are coming off a Final Four appearance, they haven’t spent advertising dollars for them since the Intrust Bank Arena game on Dec. 14. Comparatively, they said they have spend thousands trying to get the word out on the women.
“Our women’s program is a very quality product right now,” Boatright said. “If people will give them a chance and expose themselves to women’s basketball, we think they’ll come back.”
While Adams sees differences between the two squads — “I wish we had some of their size” — she admits there is a singular bond they share that Shockers fans should be able to appreciate.
“We both play extremely hard and gritty,” Adams said. “We put it on the line for Wichita State each and every game, and every kid plays their hearts out.”