It’s just a matter of time before Seawolf sports kicks into high gear. In our second installment of Who to Look for in 2004, we highlight significant newcomers in hockey, gymnastics, women’s cross country and track and field.
Women’s Cross Country
The future of women’s cross country is running right now. Her name is Jenn Grover.
Grover, an 18-year-old freshman, is already showing glimpses of her potential after joining the program from Tumwater High School in Michigan. At the University of Alaska Fairbanks Invitational Sept. 4., Grover finished tenth in the 5-Kilometer race in 21 minutes, 54 seconds. Just one race later at the Palmer Invite she shaved 1:14 off her 5K time and finished eighth.
Not bad for a freshman. And it’s not nearly what she’ll show in the future–both on the track and off.
“We need her to be a top five runner, and in two years I can see her being a team captain,” Friess said. “She’s intelligent and as long as she is motivated, I think in a couple of years she can take the reigns and tell the team when ‘Hey, it’s time to giddy up.'”
Right now, Grover is making the adjustment to college running. She left a team where she was hands-down the no. 1 runner. She was the team captain of both the track and cross country teams and PAC-9 individual champion in 2003, the same year she led the team to a 2nd-place finish at league championships.
She was also a district champion in the 1,600 meters. Friess said her track and cross country times are good enough to place among the elite high school runners in the Alaska.
At UAA, Grover joined a squad with at least five runners faster than she is. Once she can breaks the 20-minute barrier she’ll be a force to reckon with it.
“She was intimidated at first but now she’s more confident in herself and she’s looking better,” Friess said.
Track and Field
The track program starts up a Title IX compliant women’s program and one of the biggest additions may be a freshman walk-on.
Not just any walk-on. It’s the guy who finished second in both the 400 meters and 800 meters at the Alaska State Track and Field Championships.
He’s so committed that he is currently training with the cross country team even though he will see never see competition. He’s already preparing for track season, which doesn’t start until March 6.
“I am very impressed with his work ethic,” head track coach Michael Friess said. “He is a positive individual. He’s been bringing in walk-ons. He’s just been very influential into building our men’s track program.”
Those walk-ons include the state champion in the 100 meters Michael Madrid and Mick Boyle, who won the 800 meters. With newcomer Stig Yngve on the cross country team, all of the state’s top runners have become Seawolves.
Blewett’s attitude showed up in high school where he was the Team MVP and the Most Inspirational Player. It also shows at every UAA practice where Blewett has to struggle to learn a new sport.
“I am impressed with the young man because he is not a distance runner. He has been to all these workouts he has been listening to everything we are saying and he’s taken his lumps.”
Fresh out of high school, Blewett already has times that will provisionally qualify for him the conference championship, including the 400 meters in 51 seconds flat.
“A little bit more training he is going to be eyeballing that 50 (seconds),” Freiss said. “A little more endurance training he’s going to scare that 800 big-time.”
For four years, the Seawolf hockey teams have never had to worry about the man between the pipes. Now, with the departure of Chris King and Kevin Reiter, freshman Nathan Lawson has a chance to step in to keep it that way.
“Our goalies graduating opened competition, so as far as freshman go, he has a chance to make a big impact,” said UAA head coach John Hill. “He’s very athletic, has good size at 6-1 and he’s solid in all aspects.”
Lawson comes to UAA after a standout year with Olds Grizzlys of the Alberta Junior Hockey League in Canada. As the main man in the net, Lawson compiled a 31-9-2 record in 44 games, allowed 2.39 goals per game and had a .915 save percentage – numbers good enough to rank him forth in the league. The best news is he performed even better in the post season, when he upped his save percentage to .942 and lowered his GAA to 1.79.
Lawson is neither a butterfly nor standup goalie, but uses both styles when necessary, similar to the departed King. But Lawson has an edge over King and Reiter: his offensive game, which is strange for a goalie.
“He can really handle the puck, get it out of the zone and get it up to the forwards down the ice to create scoring opportunities.” Hill said
Lawson doesn’t have the job yet. Before the season starts Oct. 9, he will have to beat out junior John DeCaro and sophomore Ryan Bancroft.
“Either way, we think we have good goalies,” Hill said.
It’s not just another new season for the women’s gymnastics team. They have upgraded from Division II to the DI Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, and they will rely on newcomers like Amanda Stefani to help ease the transfer.
The Reno, Nevada native was the All-Around champion at the Western Nationals, a level nine competition–one level away from the caliber junior Olympians hold.
“I think Amanda has a tremendous amount of potential,” head coach Paul Stoklos. “She comes from a gym with very strong background. Her coach has a good background for producing exciting, fun to watch, pretty floor routines with great dance and great choreography.”
Because of these elements, Stefani’s balance beam and floor exercise routines should be her strongest event, even though she will train for all four. Last season, a shoulder injury and other health problems kept Stefani from competing. Still, she mapped out a solid floor routine with her coaches, which she brings to UAA this fall. Stoklos is so high on her choreography and dance skills. He thinks these skills will ease her transition and make her one of the team’s real highlights.
“Other coaches passed her by and that was one of the reasons we liked her,” Stoklos said. “She is very strong very talented and a strong athlete. She is a sleeper, an athlete people don’t know a lot about but is well above average.”