Floridians are used to hurricanes coming in from the south.
But the University of Alaska Anchorage volleyball team swept in from the north with three wins to leave their mark on the Florida Southern/Saint Leo Classic in Lakeland Aug 27-28.
The Seawolves nearly tied the best start program history but a valiant comeback against host Florida Southern in the final game of the tournament Saturday fell short and UAA finished 3-1 to kick off the 2004 season.
The Seawolves lost the first two games 30-27, 30-20 and were in danger of an early exit sweep. They rallied to take games three and four 30-20 and 30-27 to even up the match. A hard-fought final game went to the Moccasins 18-16.
Outside hitter Jenny Mitchell led the UAA attack with 17 kills and a career-best 16 digs. Katina Ozrelic and Carolyn DeKay each had 14 kills, while setter Stephanie Martinez set up the offense with 60 assists. Rachael Knecht had a big game defensively with 27 digs.
Florida Southern improved to 4-0 on the season and were the only team that stopped the Seawolves in the tournament.
UAA played two matches each day in Florida.
Earlier on Saturday, the Seawolves wasted no time dispatching Valdosta State 30-22, 30-27, 30-21. Mitchell had a .556 hitting percentage with 11 kills and Ozrelic was right behind with eight kills.
The Seawolves won both contests on Friday losing only a single game in two matches against Saint Anselm and St. Leo. UAA swept the Hawks to open the tourney 30-24, 30-16, 30-22, outhitting them .231 to .077. DeKay had 16 kills in the second match and the Seawolves downed the Lions 30-21, 24-30, 30-23, 30-27.
If the early success is any indication, the UAA volleyball squad has a good shot at defending their title in the four-team Aspen Hotels Invitational starting Sept. 2.
The invitational is the first chance to see the Seawolf volleyball team in real competition. In the past, it was known as the UAA Invitational. This year it is under the sponsorship of Aspen Hotels. The Seawolves are the two-time defending champions of the tournament but shouldn”t rest easy in 2004 as the field looks tough on paper.
Lincoln Christian comes into the Aspen Hotels Invitational with little to prove. The defending Division II National Champions, who went 36-4 last year, lost four of its nine letter winners but none of its starters. The Angels are riding a 16-game winning streak dating back to last season and return senior middle blocker Christen O”Malley, who finished first on the team in blocks and third in both digs and kills.
The Harding University volleyball team is another strong contender after a 2003 campaign in which they finished 30-9. They have won the West Division of the Gulf South Conference the past two seasons and are the preseason coaches” pick to win in 2004. However, they lost their setter and two best outside hitters to graduation and will rely on immediate contribution from their underclassman. They should expect big things from senior middle blocker Kate Kennedy, who was second on the team in kills and first in solo blocks.
Montana State-Billings comes into the invitational with the least hype following a 6-20 record during the 2003 season. But all nearly all the Yellowjackets key performers were underclassmen and the coaches expect a turnaround this season. They return eight of their 11 players from last year including six seniors. Outside hitter Olivio Munro led the team in kills and was second in digs.