Bullish on the Matadors

TIMES STAFF WRITER

One of Cal State Northridge's newest and biggest basketball fans will be cheering court side Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

President Jolene Koester has made a point of watching every men's and women's team compete in nine intercollegiate sports at Northridge. She became an even bigger booster of the men's basketball team as it drew closer to winning the Big Sky Conference championship and finishing the regular season with a 22-9 record.

She celebrated with the team Saturday when it defeated Eastern Washington to win the conference tournament at Northridge and again Sunday when NCAA officials announced Northridge would play Kansas in a Midwest Regional opener.

"The buzz on campus was getting more exciting leading up to the championship," Koester said Wednesday, noting she attended more women's games than men's. "I feel it's my role to support the students in their excellence, and these student athletes have certainly proven their excellence."

On a campus where the number of students who follow the team is measured in dozens, not thousands, and home games are played in the 1,600-capacity Matadome, Koester is Northridge's most visible fan.

No doubt the Matadors gained boosters when they reached the NCAA tournament for the first time. All 175 tickets allotted to Northridge were sold out by Monday afternoon for Friday's game in Dayton, Ohio. But workers in the ticket office said a number of callers who bought tickets by phone said they were Kansas fans.

"Most of the people who know what's going on with the team are in school government or in clubs or fraternities where they hear about it in meetings," said Vince Garcia, a senior from Canoga Park. "The Joe Schmo student doesn't get involved."

Garcia and his friend, freshman Kevin Luce, have attended some basketball games and watched the conference tournament final on television.

"It's something to do if you live on campus," Luce said.

Koester, who assumed the presidency of the 29,000-student university last summer, understands that few accomplishments can raise a university's profile more than national coverage of its sports teams.

While she has attended all manner of student activities--volleyball matches, engineering summits, poetry readings--the basketball team's momentum has swept her into neophyte fandom. Because she attended few games in her previous post as provost of Sacramento State, Koester said Saturday's victory was a "thrilling new experience."

"We've got a lot of students in biology, engineering, mathematics doing excellent things that we're excited about," Koester said. "But a lot more people can understand and appreciate sports. This opportunity calls attention to us and gives us a chance to show what a wonderful university we are."

An upset over Kansas could end Northridge's apathy toward its athletic teams, said journalism senior Lauren Mayer, who plays music to pump up the crowd during home games.

"Definitely, there was a time when people were not so proud to be CSUN fans," Mayer said. "But believe me, I know, the energy is more than it has ever been. It's not huge compared to what you would see nationally, but it's coming along."

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