Head women’s basketball coach Ryan McCarthy sent out a tweet on Jan. 21 that read “If the hardest road trip of the season in GNAC basketball is to Alaska, then does [UAA Basketball] make the hardest road trip every other week when traveling to the lower 48?”
UAA athletes have an intense schedule of juggling going to class full-time, practicing every day and arguably the hardest part of being an athlete in Alaska — the travel.
For the NCAA Division II sports (volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball and the track and field, ski and cross-country teams) and even the Division 1 sport of gymnastics, the teams travel primarily to the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountain area.
College athletes from Alaska often take red-eye flights, getting back into Anchorage at 3 a.m. and attend class the next day, then do it all over again in a week.
“Being gone Wednesday-Sunday every other week leaves me physically and mentally tired,” Anchorage local and men’s basketball sophomore guard, Tobin Karlberg, said.
Karlberg was the 2017-18 Alaska Gatorade Player of the Year for basketball, an award given to the best basketball player in the state of Alaska, while at Grace Christan High School.
“Traveling that much usually leaves me behind in homework and schoolwork, Karlberg, who hasn’t missed playing in a game since joining the Seawolves basketball program in 2018-19, said.
UAA student-athletes don’t have much time, if any, to get schoolwork done while traveling, so they have to get creative on the plane ride. To help student-athletes stay on top of their coursework, the athletic programs have mandatory homework time while they’re out of state for games and events.
“You just have to manage your time and your work, whether it’s doing it on the plane or on the bus,” senior UAA hockey forward Corey Renwick said.
Renwick, who’s double majoring in finance and business management, is a two-time all-conference academic team recipient for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, along with being a WCHA scholar-athlete during his junior year. As a four-year hockey player, he is no stranger to traveling every other week.
If one person was going to ride with every UAA athletic team throughout the school year, they would be on an airplane for a total of 645 hours and 300,824 miles.
Putting those numbers in perspective, 645 hours is 26.875 days, which is about as long as the month of February, with no leap year of course. The mileage of 300,824 is enough to circle the Earth just over 12 times, along with getting all the way to the moon with 60,000 miles to spare.
The team that will travel the most in the 2019-20 school year is the track and field team, with 60,364 miles and 134.5 hours on an airplane from the beginning of January to the end of May. The track and field teams do not host any events at UAA, so they are forced to travel to every meet and competition.
The team that travels the farthest on average per trip, however, belongs to the hockey team.
With the eight of the nine teams in the WCHA located in Minnesota, Michigan and Alabama, every trip is a long one. For example, in the winter of 2017-18, Seawolf hockey traveled to Ferris State in Michigan and took a bus to Alabama-Huntsville, causing them to be away from home for two and a half weeks.
In contrast, the cross-country teams travel the least throughout a season, as they compete in the least number of events, totaling 38 hours and 17,668 miles.
The full ranking, in order of least travel to the most travel overall, is cross-country, men’s basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, women’s basketball, hockey and skiing, with track and field traveling the most.
It’s tough being a college athlete in general, and even more difficult when you spend half of the season away from home. Alaska is not the New England area, where you can drive to every school in the conference in the time it takes to drive from Anchorage to Fairbanks.