From rivals to teammates: The story of UAA volleyball

The Seawolf volleyball team has an interesting dynamic: it’s athletes comprise of girls from all over Anchorage who once played against each other as competitors before joining the Seawolf program. The Seawolf team is full of past rivals, but they are a successful team despite the circumstances. Head Coach Chris Green has the answer for this successful team relationship.

“In the back of my mind I always thought, ‘I wonder how this is going to work,’ but I never mentioned it, and I watched,” Green said. “I don’t say anything about it. I just let them figure it out honestly. We do so much team building. We’re together so much that I think they have a chance to get to know each other, and the personalities seemed to have worked out okay.”

That being said, Green concedes that there were high school rivalries in several of his players histories before they joined the Seawolf volleyball program.

“You know, Leah Swiss, C.J [Chrisalyn Johnson] both on Dimond and you have Morgan [Hooe] on South, so they were big rivals,” Green said. “Zanders, Katelynn Zanders last year from South both rivals with Leah [Swiss], but I think they ended up being great friends now. I don’t think it was that big of a deal.”

Dimond versus South rivalries were a big deal for setter Morgan Hooe and outside hitter, Leah Swiss in the past, but as teammates they have new goals.

“UAA volleyball is the unifier,” Green said. “I think soccer even, rivals on the soccer field and rivals on the volleyball court. But they put that in the past once they stepped on our court. Even at the beginning, before they got to know each other, there was no animosity, it was hey we’re here to win GNAC, we are here to win games for UAA. We are going to figure this out, and they end up being really good friends.”

Katelynn Zanders, Leah Swiss, Julia Mackey and Morgan Hooe celebrate as a hard battle against Central Washington comes to an end on Nov. 5, 2015. Photo credit: Ryan Johnson
congratulations from UPD to UAA graduates

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Hooe is a senior this year, but she doesn’t have that much experience working with a team member who was previously a rival.

“I think last year was the first time that we’ve really had a good rival with Leah [Swiss] you know on the team, because Dimond and South is such a big rival, but I think it just gets us fired up more,” said Hooe. “I mean, all of us have pretty fiery personalities, so it’s not really hard for us to gel with each other.”

The rivalry Hooe is talking about is used as material for team jokes now that the girls know each other as teammates.

“[Volleyball] is definitely a big unifier,” Hooe said. “We always make jokes about it, and how we’d get in each others faces at old games, and me and Leah [Swiss], and Katelynn Zanders, one of our past players, we’d always get really fiery in soccer games. It’s just a giant joke now. You know we’re past it.”

The Seawolf volleyball team has another advantage. Since girls from the Anchorage area oftentimes make up the majority of the team, players are in a unique position of being able to know and mentor each other for more than four years. Hooe and libero Makenna Hurd are both from South, and Hooe has been able to watch Hurd develop over the years.

“I’ve known Makenna [Hurd] for a really long time. So it’s really cool seeing her grow, and it’s only been like a month and a half. I am excited to see what she’s going to be like even when she’s a senior. I remember her when she was a freshman at South… It’s been pretty cool to see how she’s grown.”

Assistant coach and past player, Siobhan Johansen, knows exactly what it feels like to be in the position Hooe and Swiss are currently in.

“When I was a freshman, one of the other freshmen was from [South], and so we had played together all four years… I knew who she was obviously and I was like, she’s a really good outside. I heard she was going to UAA… we never really talked before that, and then we actually talked when we were at practice. We met and we were like oh my gosh you’re so awesome,” said Johansen. “So it was really cool actually being able to play with that person instead of being like, no we have to beat you every time.”

Johansen believes the girls are not only unified by the sport but by their common goal to succeed.

“I don’t think anyone has ever brought high school rivalries with them because they know that’s in the past. It was high school and now they are here, and we have new rivalries that you have to focus on,” Johansen said. “Even when I was playing all the years you become a family first day of preseason basically.”

The Seawolf volleyball players have an entire season in front of them to bond, meet goals, and prove that, in college, your past doesn’t matter as long as you strive to succeed in the future.