SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- National tournament matches are labeled as neutral-site competitions. But when a school comes from California to play in Massachusetts and its opponent is from New England, the crowd will probably be slanted.

That was the case in UC Santa Cruz's five-set quarterfinal win against Rivier on Friday. The faces in the crowd overwhelmingly favored Rivier against UC Santa Cruz at Springfield's Blake Arena. But it didn't phase the Banana Slugs who have been down this road before and know how to create their own cheering section.

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More: UC Santa Cruz holds off Rivier

Their intensity from their bench rivals any student section in the country. Not only are the Banana Slugs loud, but they have a variety of chants, cheers and celebrations they yell after a minimum of every successful play. One Slug estimated the number of different cheers at 30.

On the opposing serve they may count the steps, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 7 ,7. After a big hit, they may start “Tebowing”, or take a big-air baseball swing when someone misses a ball. Even when the game was up for grabs at the end, the Slugs found time to chant their appreciation for their sports information director's hard work.

“We go into enemy territory every time we play,” Salvatore La Cavera said. “No one is cheering for us and we really need to create that energy for ourselves. At home our bench and our fans are equally as loud and we really value that at home, so we try to recreate that energy here.”

The organized cheers began three years ago and are passed down to future teams, who also bring in some original cheers of their own. The current leader is Harley Frost.

“I’ve just always been one of the loudest guys on the bench, on the court,” Frost said.

“I’m always one of the first people to start a cheer. That’s what I try to bring to the court whether I’m in the game or whether I’m injured and on the bench.”

UC Santa Cruz uses the cheers as part of overall team philosophy, which prevents it from tightening up in high-pressure situations even when things don't go according to plan.

We go into enemy territory every time we play.
-- UC Santa Cruz Salvatore La Cavera

“We rely on a phrase within the team called Namaste,” Paul Leon said. “Where we just let things go. What’s in the past, we have to focus on the future we know that if we play our game we can accomplish some great things.”

Head coach Todd Hollenbeck understands he has a unique team, and he allows them the latitude to express themselves. Even when Rivier tied the score to send the match into a deciding fifth set, the thought never crossed his mind to reel in his boisterous bench.

“The one thing we don’t want to do is change,” Hollenbeck said. “We have our ups and downs. We try to keep our guys as super motivated and confident as possible that they have their team behind them even if they’re not on the court.

“As a coach you’ve got to let them be them sometimes. At our university we have a lot of independent guys that are really intelligent that what bands them together works.”