By Taylor Hall with Collaboration from Megan Edge.
UAA teams constantly have to take their game on the road. This would be all good and fine except that their nearest opponent outside of UAF is 1326 miles away (Simon Fraser in Burnaby, British Columbia). Instead of hoping in a bus or vans to go over to the next nearest university to play, they rack up some serious air miles.
Would you like the aisle, middle, or window seat for this flight?
They also are in and out of hotels at an alarming rate.
Make sure you are up by 7 o’clock to catch the complimentary breakfast.
The teams here at UAA are the definition of road warriors and they’ve got no time to complain about their schedules.
“It’s just part of the culture here, traveling so far so often,” said Dr. Steve Cobb, UAA’s Athletic Director. “Until you take your show on the road and beat somebody, you’re all hype.
“We take a lot of pride in being good road teams.”
Taking their talents where ever the next flight itinerary says can be taxing on the student-athletes.
“Over the course of a season, it can be a grind,” Dr. Cobb said. “Our student athletes spend a lot of time in airplanes and living in airports.
“But we think we should be a little better at it than other teams because we do it every other week.”
Some teams travel more frequently. Others travel further distances. Then there are some teams that just travel anywhere but here.
Track and Field – zero home meets.
Cross Country Running – last home meet was in 2009.
Gymnastics – over halfway through their season and haven’t had home meet yet.
Ski team – no home meet.
These teams wear the green and gold of UAA but are rarely, if at all, seen here in a home contest.
Not to say these teams don’t prosper away from the UAA campus.
The Track and Field and Cross Country teams soared to new heights last year with numerous All-American honors and numerous GNAC championships to add to growing trophy case.
The ski and gymnastics teams are continuing to build upon their programs already strong reputation and continue to contend for conference and individual championships.
It doesn’t stop there though as the UAA basketball, volleyball, and hockey teams are enjoying or have already had stellar years in which they are right in the middle of conference success and beyond into the playoffs.
These success throughout the teams here at UAA don’t come without struggle, however, as it means a lot of time away from the classroom.
“Any student athlete in any school has to deal with both the travel and missing classes, “ said Tommy Grant, a senior forward for the Seawolf hockey team. “It’s never something you get used to but as time goes on and you’re a senior it seems to get a bit easier as time goes on.”
However, a lot of teams try to counter that team study sessions.
“We got a mandatory study session,” said Paul Stoklos, UAA’s Head Gymnastics coach who is in his 26th season as the head of the program. “It will be breakfast until nine o’clock and then the girls are out there with their laptops out getting work done for two hours after that.”
Well, they must be doing something right. Last year alone, 10 of the Seawolves gymnasts made their way onto their conference’s All-Academic Team.
Other coaches, like Chris Green, the UAA Volleyball coach, thinks that his teams are perhaps even better prepared because the coaches can control their daily schedule on the road.
“With our routine on the road, we’re able to make sure the team is getting seven to eight hours of sleep and we eat three good meals a day,” Green said, whose team has gone 12-5 in conference road games the past two seasons combined. “We have a study time and a practice time.”
Of course, many athletes will tell you a balance has to be found in order top be successful as a student and as an athlete.
“Being a student athlete is hard to balance the whole education and the athletics, especially on the road,” said Sarah Herrin, a senior guard for the women’s basketball team who helped UAA go 8-4 on the road this year. “It’s nice having professors that accommodate to your needs and it’s nice having blackboard to submit stuff online.”
Luckily, the world has shrunk due to the internet and it has made life easier on both athletes and coaches. Players can stay caught up with their classes back home from the road and coaches can proctor exams and keep tabs with professors back home.
With all the teams logging tons of miles in the skies, they do get the perks of accumulating some miles that help pay for later travels.
“I think last year I flew over 80,000 miles,” said Michael Friess, head coach of both the UAA Track and Field and Cross Country teams. “We have a lot of athletes here that within a year could approach 50,000 miles fore sure and reach those levels called gold.”
Now if there was a way to get rid of that jet lag Seawolf teams inevitably have to battle with each trip.
Also, if there was a way to cut down costs. The UAA Athletic Program is forced into putting a good portion of their budget towards the constant travel.
“The national average in Division II is programs spend about 15 percent of their total budget on travel, ours is 40 percent,” Dr. Cobb said. “That creates problems everywhere else that means something has to give and that’s the unique challenge for us.”
So how do the Seawolves deal with it? A “no excuses or complaints, just win” mentality seems to go a long way.
“We can’t talk about (the travelling),” said Tim Moser, head coach of the women’s basketball team. “A lot of teams complain about it but we can’t because it’s part of the nature of Alaska
How does UAA take those complaints from outsiders who think its rough when they have to make their one trip up to Alaska each year?
“There are a couple of them out there who are whiners that complain they have to come all the way up here,” Dr. Cobb said. “We just laugh at them because we travel every other week.”