Behind the Tritons: Q&A with Triton Tide Co-Presidents Aliyah Ellis and William Kessinger

If you’ve been to a UC San Diego athletics event this year, you’ve probably seen how fun and engaging it is to be a part of the Triton fan community. Beyond the thrill of watching the sports itself, Game Day is made more special when the crowd turns out, when T-shirts are tossed into the audience and when our chants echo around RIMAC. The UCSD Guardian sat down (virtually) with Aliyah Ellis and William Kessinger, co-presidents of Triton Tide at UCSD, to see how their work with the athletics department makes this all happen and enhances the fan experience. 

So, what exactly is Triton Tide?

WK: Triton Tide is the official student engagement group at UC San Diego for all of our NCAA Division I athletic events. Triton Tide is about Tritons supporting Tritons, and we help drive school spirit through social activities that are some of the biggest social events on campus at UC San Diego. Whether you are the biggest sports fan, or even if you haven’t been to a game before, Triton Tide is a safe space for all UC San Diego students to come and support our NCAA Division I athletes. Triton Tide recently reformed two years ago, which was mine and Aliyah’s freshman year. Historically, Triton Tide has been the student engagement group at UCSD, but it hasn’t existed for many years until two years ago, when a group of students, under the direction of the athletic department, decided to reform what is now Triton Tide, and now Aliyah and I are the current co-presidents.

What has been your favorite sporting event to be involved in this year?

WK: Probably my favorite sporting event this year was during fall quarter. The men’s water polo game versus [Loyola Marymount University] is called “Battle of the Kings,” and it’s an annual UC San Diego tradition. We haven’t been able to have fans at the “Battle of the Kings” since mine and Aliyah’s freshman year, but this year we gave away these yellow crowns (you can see them on the Triton Tide Instagram). We had 1,300 people in the stadium, which was absolutely insane. Then we had hundreds of people waiting to get in at the door, but we were at capacity. It was the most insane game of all time. The energy was so intense and it was so much fun, especially coming back to school in person. We had a buzzer beater moment with our water polo team, which is one of the best in the nation, so it was a really great day.

AE: I can’t just choose one, so I’m just going to say the Spirit Night Saga. We had this really cool event where we had our DJ Club come out and they performed a mini concert for UCSD students, and it was so cool how good they were and just listening to their music. We had the soccer blow-up house that you kicked the ball in, and we had so much stuff. We had glow-in-the-dark bracelets and a bracelet making station. Then at Spirit Night, we packed the arena. I haven’t seen that many students in the arena since my freshman year. It was crazy. Everyone was on their feet the entire time cheering on the team. It was absolutely amazing and I just felt at home in that atmosphere.

How does being a leader with Triton Tide help you engage with the UCSD community?

AE: I would say that being a leader in Triton Tide helps open my eyes to different students that I might not be around. Like our athletes — I don’t quite get to see them a lot around campus but being in Triton Tide, I’m at the games all the time, I’m there when they’re warming up. And being one of the co-presidents, we can be a liaison between students and student athletes. We can put both of the groups together, so they’re not separate, because a lot of schools like to separate them. 

But, at the end of the day, we’re all students and we’re all here to study and to learn and go out in the real world and have really good jobs and things like that. So, I would say that aspect really opened my eyes because it let me see different perspectives, and got rid of a bunch of different stereotypes. Also, it helps me become a better person, because now I know that I need to get to know people more instead of judging them off of a first glance. Like you might think that our athletes keep to themselves and they’re so superior, but honestly, they’re the sweetest people that I’ve ever met and I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to actually meet them in these environments.

WK: I really feel like my voice as a student is heard by the department, and all of the ideas that I have are taken into account and listened to, sometimes even executed. Thinking back to my freshman year, at men’s volleyball, we gave away UC San Diego fanny packs, which was an idea I tossed around when I was very new to the athletic department. So, just being able to have a voice that the department listens to and being so present at all of the athletic games, it doesn’t feel like a leadership position or like work to me. It feels like I’m just going to the place that I’m supposed to be. I’m supposed to be at the game and I’m supposed to be there cheering them on, or dropping a Board & Brew coupon from the ceiling.

How has it gone this year with fans back after so long? What kinds of steps has Triton Tide taken to re-engage the UCSD community?

AE: We’ve had way more fans this year at our events than we did our freshman year when we could have fans. It’s been really amazing to see that because I’m from Alabama, so sports are super huge to me. Coming here my freshman year and seeing that not many people go out to the games or not many people know about it was kind of heartbreaking to me. But this year I’ve never seen so many people at a men’s volleyball game or a water polo game. Everyone shows up and they show out and I just think that’s so precious, especially with the past year that we’ve had. It shows that people really want to come out and support and have fun.

WK: I think that we’ve really just tried our best to engage the entire community. The Triton Tide team was on the ground during move-in week of fall quarter, trying to talk to as many of the incoming freshmen as we could and getting them connected to Triton Tide. We also were just trying to engage the UC San Diego larger community as a whole and so talking to alumni, talking to second-, third- and fourth-years, talking to sorority and fraternity life, talking with the scholar athletes, of course, and then talking with the academic departments at UCSD and getting them engaged. We’ve really just tried to connect all the different parts of the UC San Diego community, and engage with one another, and in doing that we’ve broken records that we haven’t seen in years, even before COVID happened.

So, how can people get involved?

WK: The first and easiest way to get involved with Triton Tide is to go to any one of our games. Second, taking it a little bit of a step further, is applying to be a part of Triton Tide. Applications are now open. By getting involved with the Triton Tide Leadership Council, you become the liaison, like Aliyah said, between the students and the scholar athletes and the Athletic Department. You’re the person who is at the games, who is running the games. You’re the person on the floor who’s with King Triton. You’re the person who’s on the headset and you’re doing the behind-the-scenes work that makes these amazing events go on. All you have to do is just apply to be a part of the team.

What do you think Triton Tide will look like next year? How do you think it will expand?

AE: We have so much in the works currently. I don’t want to spill any tea or give any spoilers but it’s definitely going to be 10 times better than it is now. We’ve got so many cool things that we want to produce and we want to get out to students. We’re going to be having a new leadership team coming in as well, so that’s so many new bright ideas. I think that what you know now of the sports events and Triton Tide in general is going to just amplify by a 100 times next year and I’m really excited for it.

WK: Our fall sports season this year was cut short so we have some huge things coming for women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s soccer and men’s water polo coming Fall Quarter and I just know that the things that we have coming are things that have never been seen at UC San Diego and we’re ready to keep breaking records.

In this new era after the COVID lockdowns, going to sports events that are back at their electric best is one of the most fun ways to reintroduce yourself to the UCSD community and Triton Tide has played a critical role in making that happen. Like William said, the applications for the Triton Tide Leadership Council are now open. If you enjoy going to UCSD sports games and want to get involved in making them a more fun and engaging space for fans, consider applying!

Image courtesy of Mike McGinnis / UC San Diego Athletics

Triton Tide Website: https://ucsdtritons.com/sports/2019/12/13/triton-tide.aspx

Membership Sign-Up: https://ucsdtritons.com/sports/2019/12/13/triton-tide-membership-benefits.aspx

Council Application: https://ucsdtritons.com/sports/2019/12/13/triton-tide-council.aspx?id=861

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ucsdtritontide/?hl=en