Going pro: UAA athletes pursue athletic careers after college

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Megan Mullings and the BCT Alexandria in Romania. Photo credit: Megan Mullings

 

High school students often dream of continuing their athletic careers at the collegiate level, and many of those collegiate athletes later strive to take their careers a step further. They want to pursue the ultimate goal and become professional athletes. But being able to afford a living, while playing the game you love is not a given.

Still, many recent UAA athletes are about to live, or are living, this luxury.

More and more UAA athletes receive encouragement by coaches and former athletes that already made the move overseas to pursue their athletic careers professionally. Alysa Horn, former UAA player and now an assistant coach for women’s basketball, joined the coaching staff after playing two seasons overseas. In 2013-14, Horn played for the GiroLive Panthers Osnabrück in Germany and later for the Logan Thunder of Queensland, Australia in 2015.

Travis Thompson, men’s basketball player who graduated in 2015, also just signed his second pro contract in Germany with the Dresden Titans after having played for the Fraport Skyliners Juniors during the 2015-16 season. Spencer Svejcar, who just finished his collegiate basketball career at UAA, will also continue playing in Europe. Svejcar joins the Sluneta Usti nad Laben of Czech Republic.

Megan Mullings, English major, played two seasons for UAA’s basketball team after transferring from South Mountain Community College in Arizona. The 2016 Bill MacKay Athlete of the Year award winner lead her team to its greatest success. During the 2015-16 season, Mullings helped UAA sweep the GNAC’s regular-season and tournament titles as well as the West Regional champion title. The season was highlighted by their runner-up finish at the NCAA Div. II National Championship. Mullings was as leading scorer (15.9 ppg), rebounder (6.3 rpg) and shot blocker (1.6 bpg) for UAA that season. At the national championship game, the senior was discovered by an agent, who connected her with various teams in Europe. Mullings having never left the country before, except to play GNAC opponent Simon Fraser University in Canada, was excited about the arising opportunities and settled with a team in Romania for a year long contract.

My agent signed me to the team in Alexandria, Romania. And before that, I had never left the country. I signed with BCT Alexandria in Romania for one year, and now that my contract is up, I’m free to find a better team for me. But I don’t want to talk about the options just yet until it’s something more solid,” Mullings said.

Being far away from home in a strange country was tough at times, but Mullings knew how rare it was to be able to pursue an athletic career professionally.

I’m truly blessed. And I am so thankful every day, no matter how difficult things get. I did make a decent living [playing for BCT Alexandria.] They cover pretty much all living expenses, and I got paid on top of that as well, so a pretty good gig.” Mullings said.

While going to two practices a day and adjusting to her life in Romania, Mullings also focused on finishing her degree by taking three classes online. She is on track to graduate soon.

Morgan Hooe, Anchorage local and physical education major, just finished an exceptional collegiate career as the best setter in UAA’s volleyball history. The 2017 Bill MacKay Athlete of the Year award winner was also named GNAC and D-II West Regional player of the year while helping her team to make program history.

In 2017, the Seawolves won the GNAC championship title before capturing the West Regional championship title, for the first time in program history, and placing runner-up at the NCAA Div. II National Championship. Hooe, who holds the UAA career individual record with 3,920 assists, seeks to continue playing the game overseas. For that reason, she set sails to foreign places.

“I went to Brazil with a D-II USA college team for about 10 days [on a scouting trip], practiced only a couple times with the team and played four matches against pro and U-22 teams. Now, I will be heading to Slovenia in August for a five team pro tryout,” Hooe said.

The scouting trip was a memorable and valuable experience for Hooe, which she hopes will result in great opportunities and eventually in a professional volleyball career.

“The experience was amazing and got me even more excited to head to Europe to keep playing. If I get selected by a team, I’ll be leaving almost immediately from the tryouts to start with the team, wherever it may be,” Hooe said.

Signing a contract with a European team in August would result in a minimum stay of eight months, which Hooe would happily do.

“My dream scenario is to sign in August and continue my volleyball career. I’ve always dreamed of being a professional volleyball player,” Hooe said.

On her journey to Slovenia in August, Hooe will be accompanied by former UAA hitter Julia Mackey, who just graduated with her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering this spring and is also looking to continue her athletic career on the next level.

Mason Mitchell, management major, is another UAA athlete who continues his collegiate career on the professional level. Mitchell would still have had collegiate athletic eligibility for two more years, since he just finished his sophomore year, but chose to turn to pro hockey instead. The forward delivered 10 of his team-high 12 goals in the final 14 games for the Seawolves.

Even though the Seawolves failed to qualify for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs, Mitchell excelled and caught attention on the field by scouts. He concluded his collegiate career by signing a 2-year, entry-level contract with the Washington Capitals’ primary development club the Hershey Bears.

The Hershey Bears are members of the American Hockey League, which consists of 29 professional teams and serves as the main development ground for the NHL. The Hershey Bears are closely affiliated with the Washington Capitals and had 21 former or current Bears play for Washington last season.

“I did not go on a scouting trip. Team scouts actually come to our games and scout players. So that is how I got talking to them,” Mitchell said.

Like many hockey players, Mitchell has one long term goal, which he is now one step closer to.

“My dream scenario is to play in the NHL,” Mitchel said.

With the rising success of UAA’s athletic teams, it becomes more likely for individuals to get discovered by scouts and professional teams. Athletes can also build on the international connections former teammates have already established before. Overall, it is a rising trend for UAA athletes of various sports to continue on with their athletic careers. But they all keep in mind the value of earning a college degree by making arrangements to finish their education, if they have not already graduated.