Seawolves send off senior in stylish sweep

The University of Alaska Anchorage volleyball team could have folded after their postseason hopes died in Fairbanks Nov. 9. Instead the Seawolves looked stronger than ever, sending lone senior Brianne McCabe off with a sweep of Seattle University and Northwest Nazarene Nov. 15-16 at the Sports Center.

UAA started the sweep with a 28-30, 30-20, 30-18, 30-28 victory over Seattle. The Redhawks entered the match in second place in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference and when it was all over the Seawolves exposed them as a fraud.

The Seawolves got off to rough start down 5-1 early in the first game. But UAA clawed back before dropping the game by two points, which head coach Kim Lauwers attributed more to her own team than the play of Seattle.

“We were over thinking things,” Lauwers said.

In games two and three, UAA vented the frustration of the early play by jumping to leads of 8-0 and 9-3 and never looking back. And then there was the red-hot play from McCabe.

“They couldn’t stop Brianne,” Lauwers said.

McCabe finished with 23 kills on an astonishing .588 hitting percentage and complimented it with seven blocks.

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Not to say that McCabe didn’t have some help. Lauwers pointed to sophomore Jenny Mitchell as a spark in the third game.

“Jenny Mitchell came in and did an awesome job,” Lauwers said.

The deciding fourth game ended up being more of a challenge as UAA lagged early and found themselves down 21-12. It seemed as though a fifth game was inevitable until the Seawolves began to surge.

UAA went on a 12-3 run to tie it up. With the Redhawks looking to stop McCabe, they forgot about outside hitter Carolyn DeKay. The sophomore ripped off five of the Seawolves last six points, including a big spike off a Seattle blocker to complete the comeback.

“Carolyn stepped it up,” Lauwers said.

UAA’s hitters weren’t the only stars on the court. Setter Kasey Kuelper, who notched 54 assists, continually fed McCabe and DeKay, who finished with 14 kills. But the junior did more than pass. Kuelper was one of four Seawolves in double-digit digs and also served for a career-best seven aces.

“She took them out their offense,” Lauwers said of Kuelper’s serving.

After the win, Lauwers was proud of her team’s toughness.

“They kept their composure and they kept fighting,” she said.

Saturday night was senior night at the Sports Center, and it belonged to McCabe. After a pre-match ceremony in her honor, the Seawolves came out fired up en route to a 30-17, 30-17, 30-28 victory over Northwest Nazarene.

“That is the way it is supposed to end,” McCabe said.

The Crusaders looked helpless in the first two games as UAA rode the play of its big guns again. McCabe notched 11 of her game-high 15 kills in the first two frames, while DeKay had 10 of her 12 in the two games.

In the third game, UAA jumped out to a quick 7-1 lead and it appeared that there would be no drama at all. But Nazarene wasn’t ready to roll over.

With the score 19-14 in UAA’s favor, the Crusaders went on a 10-2 binge to lead by 3.

But the Seawolves had one last answer. With DeKay ineffective, McCabe and freshman Mindy Cason combined for five straight kills and brought the Crusaders to their knees. Middle blocker Starr Burgan finished off Nazarene with a kill, the last point of UAA’s 2002 season.

Burgan notched 10 kills, while Kuelper again had a fine match, with 41 assists and a career-best 21 digs.

Lauwers says she was more than pleased with the performance.

“This is how you want to go out,” she said. “They wanted to play well for themselves, as well as Brianne.”

Everyone had a way of showing McCabe she will not be forgotten.

Before the game, UAA athletics director Steve Cobb presented her with a green and gold volleyball for surpassing the 1,000 kill mark. Her teammates wore their hair in pigtails, McCabe-style. The cross-country team, who has supported the team with painted chests all season, painted their backs to read “BRIANNE” with “WE LOVE U” squeezed on the last back in the lineup.

All the attention was too much for the Seawolf veteran, who finished her career No. 3 all-time in kills (1,028) and No. 5 in hitting percentage (.250).

“I got a little teary-eyed,” McCabe said.