Put yourself in the sneakers or skates of the opponents who have to come to Anchorage to play the Seawolves.
You have to travel a minimum of three to four hours on a plane to just get up here. You come into a new environment that is chalked full of new scenery to take in. Countless distractions from wildlife to weather that seems to change by the minute are right outside your hotel room window.
Oh wait, that’s right, you’re here to play the Seawolves.
I forgot to mention that throughout their athletic program you will find teams that are chalked full of talent and rarely lose when home.
In fact, you can ask around and Anchorage is just a destination most opponents just don’t like to see coming up on their calendars.
“It’s not as much fun to come to Alaska as it used to be,” said Dr. Steve Cobb, UAA’s Athletic Director.
UAA teams continue to challenge in every conference and league they play in and, more times than not, are challenging for titles and postseason success. Basically, they are never going to be an easy challenge for any team looking to defeat the ‘Wolves.
However, these home numbers are making it seem downright unfair for teams to even think about getting a win up in Anchorage.
Women’s basketball: 14-2 at home
Men’s basketball: 11-3 on their court
Volleyball: 10-1 this season
Hockey: 7-4-3 on home ice
“I think first and foremost, they’re just flat out a good team,” said Chris Johnson, the women’s volleyball team coach at Seattle Pacific. “There are definitely places where the home court advantage is overrated and not a given.
“I think Anchorage is definitely a place where they have an advantage though.”
Many coaches will tell you it’s the players that help forge a solid home court advantage.
“I think it’s a tough place to play because you’re playing a good team,” said Julie van Beek Heisey, Seattle Pacific’s sixth year women’s basketball coach. “You’re going against players who wok hard every possession, players who take pride in executing, and players who can make big plays when needed.”
Other coaches noticed the trip and what it can take out of their teams.
“For us, we cross two time zones and kids aren’t used to the cold,” said Northwest Nazarene basketball coach Tim Hills, who has brought teams up here on nine different occasions. “A lot of them haven’t been to Alaska before so everything is unique and exciting so when they see a moose downtown and they’re likely to freak out.
“It makes it a rough trip in terms of just keeping them focused.”
Perhaps the strain is most felt on the Midwest teams that reside in the WCHA and that have to travel even further to get to the Seawolves.
“I think the players body clock is ready to face-off at seven o’clock but they have to wait until ten o’clock when they travel up to Anchorage to play,” said John Hill, an assistant hockey coach with the Minnesota Gophers.
Hill himself has seen both sides of the unique home ice advantage the Seawolves have. He was a former Seawolf himself back in 1980-84 and was their coach from 2001-05.
“I think any WCHA coach will tell you that when you play UAA, whether it’s home or on the road, you’re going to have your hands full,” Hill said.
Sometimes, being so good everywhere, but especially on the road, can make it tough to get teams up here to play the Seawolves.
“That’s the penalty of success,” Dr. Cobb said. “The last few years we have had a terrible time scheduling non-conference games.”
Head Coach Tim Moser, who is in his fifth season leading the program, has led the UAA women’s basketball team to new heights in just about all categories. The women’s team is a jaw-dropping 77-5 at home under his direction and could be one of the main culprits as to why teams don’t want to play here.
“I don’t think anyone likes to play on the road but right now more people go to Fairbanks more than they come to Anchorage because we win here,” Moser said. “So I don’t know if it’s the Alaska thing or if it’s putting up with us.”
Of course there are always the perks for the Seawolf athletes and coaches when they get to stay here. It’s sleeping in your own bed the night before a game, playing on the court you practice on, and playing in front of your home town fan base.
“Having the home crowd is always nice and so is playing in your own gym,” said Sarah Herrin, a senior guard for the UAA women’s basketball team.
That home crowd can be a huge asset, especially when they come out in big numbers like for UAA.
“We have a big home court advantage and I think our crowds are bigger than other places,” said Head Coach Chris Green, who has led the Seawolves volleyball team to a 20-3 record at home the past two seasons. “We have a lot more community support and I think our student section is getting bigger.
“If we could combine both of those things, we could rock this place even more.”
A lot of times, a team can feed of the home crowd’s energy and can use it to rally or put teams away early.
“The crowd brings so much energy into the game,” said Nikki Viotto, a sophomore defensive specialist for the Seawolf volleyball team. “Even if you’re having an off night or you’re not feeling hyped up, the crowd comes in and it’s like ‘bam’ and you want to play for them.”
“We are a commuter campus but (the student section) are getting better.” Dr. Cobb said. “As this university moves to a more traditional type of campus, you’re going to see those numbers grow, particularly if we are doing well.”
So whether it’s the long distances and different climates opposing teams have to journey to play UAA or if it’s the Seawolves winning due to their talent and home crowd, one thing remains clear: Seawolves keep on rolling and have made Anchorage a feared destination for their opponents.
“We are enjoying a lot of success right now but our coaches have worked very hard to attract the right kind of students to wear the green and gold,” Dr. Cobb said. “But we’re greedy, we always want more.”
With this sort of winning mentality reflected on the whole athletic department, it’s no wonder why success has followed the Seawolves.
So to put all UAA opponents on alert, enjoy your time here as much as you can. However, when you step on the Seawolves turf, good luck enjoying any sort of success after that.
“Getting our butts kicked on our home court is just not an option for us,” Viotto said. “It’s just not going to happen.”
We’ve hoped you enjoyed your stay here in Anchorage and have enjoyed all it has to offer. Thanks for playing and we’ll see you next year.